[VIEWPOINT]Lawmaker’s act crosses lineRepresentative Roh Hoe-chan of the minority opposition Democratic Labor Party triggered controversy by revealing on Aug. 18 the names of the seven former and incumbent prosecutors who were overheard while allegedly taking bribes from the Samsung Group ahead of holiday seasons on tapes held by the National Security Planning Agency, the predecessor of the National Intelligence Service.
Representative Roh disclosed the names of the prosecutors at a meeting of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee at the National Assembly and pointed out their names in a press release distributed to reporters before and after his remarks. Mr. Roh also posted this material on his Internet home page.
Since Representative Roh made public the prosecutors’ names, even the media have repeated the information. Vice Justice Minister Kim Sang-hee, who was mentioned in the disclosed materials, resigned, saying the reports were unfair. The remaining former and incumbent prosecutors denied receiving monetary gifts for the traditional holidays and asserted their innocence.
It has not been made clear yet whether the prosecutors in question actually accepted the money from Samsung Group. The truth will be revealed through the prosecution’s investigation.
But regardless of the truth of the allegation, the prosecutors are already being treated as if they were guilty by the public, which has decided that they did in fact receive the bribes. It would be indeed regrettable if it is revealed later that even one of them had been treated unfairly.
Those who support Mr. Roh’s divulgence of the names contend that his action is perfectly legal because it comes under the scope of immunity for lawmakers. They also pointlessly argue that “he did what had to be done.”
However, Mr. Roh’s behavior seems to be beyond the scope of immunity that the constitution provides for lawmakers. The constitution stipulates that lawmakers are protected from civic and criminal prosecution outside the National Assembly for remarks and votes they make in the course of their duties in the National Assembly.
Precedents say that these remarks include behavior necessarily related to their duties as well. For example, the distribution of a press release to the media immediately before he made the remark in the Assembly can be regarded as an act carried out in the course of his duties.
But precedents also say that even statements made in the Assembly will not be exempted from legal consequences if they are made public or published.
If so, Mr. Roh’s act of posting the contents of the wiretapped tapes on his Internet Web site for the public’s viewing is similar to “publishing” in precedents. As such, his actions can be construed as being outside of the purview of immunity. Therefore, his disclosure of the names can be prosecuted as a criminal act that goes beyond the scope of immunity.
The Protection of Communications Secrets Act can be applied to Mr. Roh. The law says that if a person discloses or leaks the contents of communications or conversations that were recorded through illegal wiretapping, the person can be subject to up to 10 years’ imprisonment or have their qualifications suspended for up to five years. Also, libel under the criminal statute can be applied to his act of disclosure, provided that the prosecutors whose names were revealed accuse him of libel.
Furthermore, Mr. Roh’s behavior is very likely to be criticized. Not only did his behavior defame particular persons but it also shook the basis of the legal principle that no one should disclose the contents of conversations obtained through illegal taping.
In addition, he seems to have had a clear perception of the criminality of his behavior, given his open request for indictment, challenging prosecutors, “Indict me.” If his divulgence constitutes criminality and if he had a clear awareness of the illegality, should he not be investigated and prosecuted?
Aside from the controversy over whether his behavior is within the scope of immunity for lawmakers or whether it can be prosecuted or not, the public should press for political responsibility for his rash attitude and its serious repercussions. The people should take the final responsibility to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in which lawmakers take advantage of their privilege of immunity to violate the law.
* The writer is a lawyer and director of the Korea Bar Association. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Jun-seon