[EDITORIALS]Detentions and justiceThe law-enforcement investigation of the Hyundai Motor Group, which has lasted for a month, entered a decision stage on criminal charges as prosecutors summoned Chung Mong-koo, the chairman of the business group, and finished its questioning of him. The prosecutors plan to make a final decision on the number of people to be charged and the penalties they will seek after a meeting of the investigating team. They are likely to decide this week whether they will ask a court to physically detain Mr. Chung and other related executives.
The public must have been depressed at seeing the Hyundai Motor Group's corruption discovered through the prosecutors' investigation. But there are conflicting views about whether to physically detain Hyundai Motor executives, especially Mr. Chung. Some people say that the prosecutors should detain him in order to uphold justice in the nation and to prevent recurrences of such illegalities. But some people say that the prosecutors should book Mr. Chung without detention, considering the damage to the business group due to the absence of top management and the ill effects on the economy. Due to such conflicting arguments, prosecutors seem to be debating the issue intently.
The JoongAng Ilbo has called for investigations and trials without physical detention as the rule in past cases, including the prosecutors' investigation into the biggest shareholders of major newspapers in August 2001. The JoongAng Ilbo believes that foregoing detention is in accordance with the spirit of the law and the protection of human rights. Korea's code of criminal procedure says that prosecutors should detain suspects only when they do not have a permanent residence or may destroy evidence or are likely to flee. In other words, the principle is to investigate and try suspects without physical detention ― detention is an exceptional case. But in fact, Korea’s prosecutors have used detention as a method of extrajudicial punishment.
But recently, the courts and prosecutors have begun to investigate cases without physical detention. The Seoul District Court set up standards for detentions, in which it has tightened sharply the prerequisites for the issuance of detention warrants. The prosecutors are also designing new standards for requesting detention warrants. Last October, Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae issued a directive to prevent the pro-North Korean professor Kang Jeong-koo from being detained, emphasizing the principles of a presumption of innocence and investigation without physical detention.
The automobile industry is a key exporting industry, which supports many jobs and local companies. Even if we set aside such economic factors, prosecutors should be cautious in physical detentions because it is against our principles. A wealthy businessman is no exception. He should be tried without physical detention and should be punished later if a court finds him guilty.
The Hyundai Motor Group should repent. The business group promised to donate 1 trillion won to society before Mr. Chung and his son were questioned by prosecutors, but the donation cannot be an indulgence.