[VIEWPOINT]Be consistent on white collar crimeA line from the movie “The Brain Game Project, Puzzle,” which was released recently, points out: “In this world, people who wear business suits are more intimidating than people in leather jackets.” It goes on to say that people, therefore, wear ties and anyone who wears a tie, which is actually just a piece of cloth, can get in just about anywhere. In this movie, an unlikable group consisting of a ruined loan shark, a corrupt former detective, a pimp and a gangster get together to plot a crime. They wear business suits, saying, in self-justification, “It is people who wear dress shirts and ties who really steal big money.”
People find the opinions of leading figures in our society persuasive because public sentiment sympathizes with the lines in the movie. It should be no surprise that people think crimes committed by “the wealthy” corrupt our society. When someone like Lee Yong-hun, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, says, “White collar crimes should be punished strictly,” the remark resonates with the public.
However, it was confusing when the Seoul District High Court recently rejected prosecutors’ applications for warrants to arrest a high-ranking police officer and executives of the Uri Party. This situation seems different from the rejection of arrest warrants for executives of Lone Star, the American private equity fund, which caused friction between the court and the prosecution.
How shall we interpret the court’s decision to reject an arrest warrant for the head of the police detective division, who is suspected of receiving a Mercedes Benz worth 100 million won ($107,700) and 100 million won in cash that flowed into an account opened in the name of a relative at the rate of 5 million won a month from a game arcade owner?
The court said its reason for the denial was that “there isn’t enough evidence to verify the transfer of part of the money and profits.” This means that our society does not acknowledge the need for investigation under physical restraint of the person under suspicion, which is equivalent to punishment. The court also said that, “There are realms where, the criteria of ‘guilty or not guilty,’ are very vague.”
The prosecution complained that, “The court’s decision can be heard as if it has pronounced the suspect not guilty.” The prosecutors complained that they “cannot understand that a police officer, who has law enforcement authority, had cash dealings with a game arcade owner. He had summoned people who wanted their money back from the game arcade owner to his office and persuaded them to compromise. Is it not enough reason for an arrest warrant?”
Frankly speaking, their complaints sound quite convincing to me. The police officer claimed that he invested 100 million won in the game arcade and received in return 30 million won. He claimed to have received additional 100 million won as profits from the remaining 70 million won, and that he later returned the Mercedes Benz to the businessman.
It is equally hard to understand why arrest warrants were refused for the executives of the governing party who extorted about 100 million won from a company that deals with premium gift coupons, demanding a piece of the business. An executive of the Uri Party’s legal aid committee and an executive of the party’s special committee for young businessmen, together with a man with 20 previous convictions, had threatened the gift coupon company, which was told that if it did not hand over the exclusive wholesale rights for the coupons, “We will break the company.” They also submitted a petition to the prime minister’s office, pressuring the company to write a contract to “pay a profit of 4 won per gift coupon.” Investigations show that the men took in 123 million won in five months.
The court presented a rather strange logic as its reason for rejecting the warrant. It said, “It was rejected on grounds of the rule of proportionality.”
The problem is that the court’s decision makes people think its reasons for denying warrants are too arbitrary. I don’t mean to deny the constitutional independence of the judge, who is supposed to preside over court proceedings according to his conscience. Former prosecutor Kim Young-kwang, who was involved in a legal corruption case, was arrested although he confessed to all allegations against him, because “there was a chance of destroying the evidence.” He was sentenced to a one-year prison term.
It makes sense, to a degree, to say that the self-righteous and oppressive investigation tactics of the prosecution may have brought out the recent consecutive rejections of petitions for arrest warrants.
However, I still think the court’s decision is suspect because it seems that the court has become stricter after the prosecution’s recent investigation of a former judge. I think the court system should present a clear and transparent standard for issuing warrants in order to persuade not only the prosecution, but also the common people.
*The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Jai-hyun