[NOTEBOOK]From the past, a haunting echoA big scandal that startled people took place during the Kim Young-sam administration. It was a corruption case involving a military procurement project code-named “Yulgok,” which was pursued by the previous administration. A former defense minister and chiefs of the air force and navy were arrested. Two former presidents, Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were questioned and testified through written documents.
Arms dealers and munitions industries were entangled with senior defense officials. Brokers embezzled a large sum of money in a scheme that contained nearly all the irrgularities of a military procurement scandal. The Board of Audit and Inspection delved into the allegations. In the initial stages of the probe, the investigative bodies were convened by Park Kwan-yong, then the president’s chief of staff. The meeting was designed to fine-tune cooperation among the audit agency, the intelligence agency, the prosecution and the Blue House because of the importance of the inspection. But the audit agency flatly rejected the meeting. It said, “What’s the use of fine-tuning with the same parties we have to inspect?”
The agency’s position was that though the other agencies have their own investigative powers, they are all subject to the inspection of the audit agency. Criticism of the audit agency as “arrogant” ensued. What would have happened if the audit agency had not stuck with its position? Would the truth of the “Yulgok project” have been revealed?
A similar incident took place recently. The debate focuses on whether pressure was applied to the prosecution’s investigation of the SK Group. The matter was disclosed by a prosecutor last week during a televised discussion between the president and junior prosecutors. The secretary general of the ruling party, the finance minister and the head of the Financial Supervisory Commission reportedly put pressure on the prosecution during the course of the investigation. Two days later, the Blue House said the officials asked the prosecution to delay the announcement of the investigation’s outcome, fearing a possible impact on the economy. The Blue House reportedly justified its action as policy.
The investigators, however, are telling a different story. A prosecutor, who first revealed the controversy, said he was pressured from the outside. The prosecutors apparently took the request as pressure, while the Blue House said it was only about coordination.
Since when has the ruling party secretary general been in a position to have deep concern about the national economy? Wasn’t he more concerned about the company being probed than the nation?
The intervention of the Finance Ministry and the Financial Supervisory Commission also raised suspicions. The two organs are directly related to the operations of companies. Corrupt relationships between government offices and businesses were once rampant in our society. If a case is directly connected to the national interest, there could be a coordination for an ongoing probe. But there should be no doubt about the reason.
Last year, people suspected that the leadership of the prosecution tipped off some influential figures about an investigation into corruption involving Lee Yong-ho. The then prosecutor-general and senior officials were treated as if they were criminals, and then faced disgraceful dismissals.
How did ruling party officials, the finance minister and the Financial Supervisory Commission learn of the SK probe? If doubts about the government officials who meddled in the SK probe were hushed up because the event took place in the early stage of an administration, that is a serious problem.
The young prosecutors said they would reveal the people who sought to curb their investigations. We are witnessing an upheaval in the history of Korea’s prosecution.
* The writer is crime news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Sok-hyon