[OUTLOOK]Weigh the gains and losses of moveBusinessmen and economists have a tendency to analyze everything in terms of cost and efficiency. The Minister of Justice has exercised his authority to command over the prosecutor general for the first time in the history of the constitution. What was the calculation behind the move? Had the minister considered the shockwave and aftermath when making such a decision? Did he have some deep intention and plan for the future in mind?
So far there had been no precedent in which a justice minister exercised his authority to command the prosecution. It might not be because there was no past case that required it, but because previous ministers avoided taking such blunt action. Like an emergency fire engine, the power to intervene is best left unused. Once it is exercised, it ends up as a loud historical experiment. Having paid a very expensive price for such an experiment 52 years ago, Japan has not dared to try it ever again.
In the spring of 1953, when Shigeru Yoshida was the Prime Minister of Japan, the prosecutors investigated a bribery case known as the Shipbuilding Scandal and found that ruling Liberal Party politicians, including Secretary General Eisaku Sato and Policy Planning Committee head Hayato Ikeda, were involved in it. The prosecution summoned Mr. Sato four times and Mr. Ikeda three times for examination.
While the two politicians insisted that the money they received was political donations, the prosecutors decided to arrest Mr. Sato on the charge of accepting a bribe. Some prudent prosecution insiders argued that the charges were not personal crimes, but the hardliners prevailed. In the Cabinet system, an arrest of a ruling party executive not only sets back the state administration but also runs a risk of bringing down the cabinet. The minister of justice asked the prosecutor general to deal with the case more carefully on several occasions, but the requests were rejected. Prime Minister Yoshida called an emergency meeting with the deputy prime minister and the justice minister and decided to exercise the power to intervene and stop the arrest warrant. While the Public Prosecutor’s Office accepted the decision, the controversy resulted in a flood of public criticism. The minister of justice took responsibility and stepped down. In the aftermath of the scandal, the Yoshida cabinet had to resign en masse by the end of the year.
At the time, Mr. Yoshida decided to exercise command because he thought the investigation into the political fund scandal would critically damage the politicians, especially the conservatives. He considered it a threat to the system. Moreover, he wished to politically save Mr. Sato and Mr. Ikeda, promising ruling party members whom the prime minister had been cultivating.
Later on, both Mr. Sato and Mr. Ikeda served as prime ministers of Japan and left great achievements. Mr. Ikeda, who was in power for four years from 1960, shifted the focus of Japanese society from the security struggle to the economy and successfully promoted the famous “income doubling plan.” Mr. Sato succeeded Mr. Ikeda and served as the prime minister for over seven years. He maintained the rapid growth of the Japanese economy, and struck major deals such as the repatriation of Okinawa and the Treaty on Basic Relations between Korea and Japan. Mr. Yoshida, Mr. Ikeda and Mr. Sato are each considered to be one of the best prime ministers in post-war Japan. Therefore, there are people who say that Mr. Yoshida’s decision to exercise command was partly reasonable.
Veteran legal professionals also point out that the prosecutors at the time had been overly ambitious. Shigeki Ito, who had participated in the investigation into the Shipbuilding Scandal and later served as Prosecutor General, wrote in his memoir, “I cannot deny that I felt frustration and relief at the same time when I heard the news of the intervention. After Mr. Sato was arrested, arrests of many more politicians, including Mr. Ikeda, were scheduled, and I was anxious how far the case would spread and what would happen to Japanese politics.”
Can the Korean case receive the kind of evaluation the Japanese precedent did in a long term? It might be a more important matter than the immediate issue of the prosecution’s independence. If so, the administration should calculate the gains and losses to Korean society by deliberating whether the case is important enough to exercise the power of intervention. In today’s acute confrontation of ideologies, it can be an issue related to our national identity.
If the administration wishes to make Professor Kang Jeong-koo a symbol or a signal by protecting him, it is a very serious issue. However, the administration is greatly mistaken if the decision to exercise command was a political one with no resolve.
Judging from a common sense point of view, the answer appears obvious. But depending on the situation and standard, a completely different answer can be reached.
* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ibo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-suk