[EDITORIALS]Prosecutors stumbleSomething is fishy about the National Tax Service’s decision to reduce taxes levied on Sun & Moon Group, managed by a fellow high school alumnus of President Roh Moo-hyun. The former National Tax Service commissioner, Sohn Young-rae, is suspected of having directed the tax reduction, but a statement from Sun & Moon said that its chairman had asked President Roh through an aide, Ahn Hee-jung, to make a telephone call to the tax service.
It is the prosecution’s negligence in its investigation that is to blame in the first place. The Seoul District Prosecutors Office closed the case in June with the arrest of a junior tax official in Seoul on charges of having accepted 40 million won ($33,600) from Sun & Moon in return for the tax reduction. The prosecutors explained that they could not find hard evidence to prove other charges, although they investigated Mr. Sohn and the National Tax Service, searching offices and seizing documents. So has evidence not found six months ago suddenly descended from the heavens?
Reduction of the tax bill for Sun & Moon Group was an unusual measure. According to an internal paper of the tax service, the original amount of taxes was 18 billion won. In June 2002, Mr. Sohn received a report that the final amount had been reduced to 7.1 billion, and he ordered another reduction to below 2.5 billion won. According to the prosecutors, the tax service finally collected back taxes of 2.3 billion won. There was speculation that the influence of a powerful man, even more influential than the tax chief, might have been working in the background.
Mr. Sohn denied that, saying, “I met Moon Byeong-ok, chairman of Sun & Moon, and the vice chairman, Kim Seong-rae, last year, but I received no requests or pressure from Mr. Roh or Mr. Ahn.” But Mr. Moon, who is now in custody, said, “I called Mr. Ahn and asked him to ask for Mr. Roh’s help.”
The prosecutors should say if there is any suggestion that Mr. Roh was involved or whether there was intervention from influential politicians. The prosecution has been negligent, but can restore its honor that way.