[EDITORIALS]New test for prosecutionThe allegations in the Nara Merchant Bank case have been blown out of proportion by the prosecutors. The investigation planning officer of the Central Investigation Division said on Tuesday that a portion of the 200 million won ($164,000) Ahn Hee-jung received from Nara Merchant Bank for investment in a bottled water company was deposited in the account of the Local Autonomy Research Institute. But he rescinded his statement a few hours later, saying he overlooked the fact that the money was given to the company after it was sold to a third party. Since the investigation is into a politically sensitive case, the explanation that the prosecutor in charge of the inquiry made a mistake is not satisfactory.
Mr. Ahn is known to be President Roh Moo-hyun’s closest aide. The institute was founded and headed by Mr. Roh. Mr. Ahn says he operated a bottled water company, Oasis Water, to support the institute.
Tracing the money flow and payment details of the money Mr. Ahn received from Nara Merchant Bank is the nucleus of the investigation. If some of the money flowed into the institute, as was claimed by the prosecution earlier, it could have been spent on Mr. Roh’s political activities.
The allegations are shrouded in suspicion. Bundles of banknotes were handed over at a hotel. This method of money transfer is typical in bribery, illegal political fundraising and other under-the-table deals. That there was no contract or receipt heightens doubt on legitimacy. Before the presidential election, the prosecutors discovered Mr. Ahn had received the money. But they postponed an investigation for reasons difficult to justify, raising speculation they were trying to read the minds of the politicians.
Whether the money Mr. Ahn received from Nara flowed into the institute is the nexus of the investigation. The inquiry is a test of the independence and political neutrality of the prosecution. People will be given a chance to read the will of the new leadership of the prosecution. Judging from this recent blunder, the prosecution’s independence seems a hope that will not be fulfilled.