[FOUNTAIN]Kang controversy marks deeper issuesIn April, 1949, Choi Dae-gyo, then head of the Seoul District Public Prosecutors Office, uncovered an alleged corruption charge against the minister of commerce and industry, Im Yeong-sin, who was a favorite of President Syngman Rhee. When Ms. Im ran for by-election, she had allegedly embezzled government funds and collected donations from companies on the pretext of buying birthday presents for the president. The prosecution naturally indicted Ms. Im.
However, President Rhee pressured the prosecution, through the justice minister, not to bring an indictment against Ms. Im. The justice minister ordered that prosecutors get his pre-approval before prosecuting a minister. Mr. Choi did not yield and insisted that whether to bring an indictment or not was a matter for the prosecutor, and that the minister could not intervene in a specific case. The chief prosecutor summoned and personally questioned Ms. Im, and indicted her on bribery charges. The case was recorded as the first incident of a prosecution official standing against a minister of justice for inappropriately exercising his command.
Controversy over the justice minister’s exercise of command re-emerged half a century later in July, 2002, during the Kim Dae-jung Administration. Following Hong-geol, the third son of President Kim, Hong-eop, the second son, was also implicated in a corruption charge and was about to be indicted. The Blue House tried to have at least one of the two sons investigated without detention. They came up with Article 8 of the Public Prosecutor’s Office Act. It stated that the minister of justice supervises and commands the Prosecutor General for a specific case. The Blue House urged minister of justice, Song Jeong-ho, to exercise his command over Prosecutor General Lee Myeong-jae. However, Minister Song was worried about resistance from the prosecutors and opposed the plan, which ended in vain. Minister Song was replaced at once.
Originally, the exercise of command was created to prepare for the event of prosecutors becoming negligent of their duties or abusing their rights politically. During the authoritarian administrations, there was no room for a dispute over command. The justice minister and Prosecutor General knew in advance how the administration felt and consulted to smoothly conclude sensitive cases.
The prosecution is disturbed by Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae’s exercise of command. Prosecutors are displeased the minister chose the Professor Kang Jeong-koo case from many, to support his pro-Pyongyang arguments. The controversy seems to be a model of the ideological discords in Korean society today.
by Ko Dae-hoon
The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.