[Viewpoint]Media, prosecutors deserve rebuke

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[Viewpoint]Media, prosecutors deserve rebuke

Prosecutors have lost a great deal of face recently in two influence-peddling investigations involving Shin Jeong-ah and the former presidential secretary Jung Yun-jae. The court has rejected, one after another, requests from prosecutors to detain them. As a city news reporter who has watched the Shin Jeong-ah scandal unfold, I could not understand the court’s argument that there was no risk that she would destroy evidence. But in the approximately two weeks since that ruling, I have changed my mind for two reasons. One is that the court might have been right and the other is that this may reveal the poor capability of the prosecution in South Korea.
After the court decided to deny the request for a warrant to detain Shin Jeong-ah, the prosecution decried the ruling, even calling Korea “a state of judicial anarchy.” The Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office dispatched a number of prosecutors and investigators to the Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office to buttress the probe. At that time, they hoped to prove wrong the judge’s perception that it was not a weighty case and that a warrant was unnecessary. Since then, the case has taken quite a different course. Prosecutors have called in Shin and her lover almost every day. They have had to face reporters and photographers every time. That has been close to torture.
The two may be more distressed about the harassment by the media than the prosecutors’ investigation. Perhaps that has been the prosecutors’ goal all along. Nevertheless, everything is getting more tangled. The prosecutors are not talking about Shin’s alleged embezzlement anymore despite their initial confidence. They are also keeping silent about their reapplication for a detention warrant. Shin is now recovering her smile. As Judge Kim Jeong-jung of the Seoul Western District Court pointed out, prosecutors have not been able to find sufficient reasons to keep Shin in custody from the beginning. Yet, prosecutors still sought a detention warrant.
The same thing happened in Busan regarding the former presidential secretary Jung Yun-jae. Why? Maybe the intent was to appease an angry public.
Prosecutors might have tried too quickly to put the suspects in detention unconditionally, hoping to wrap up their investigation when the public interest calms down. In fact, the prosecutorial probe has been strange from the outset. In the case of Jung, he should have already been investigated a year ago but was not. Also, prosecutors ignored the Shin Jeong-ah case for more than a month even after the media raised suspicions about her.
It seems that prosecutors belatedly began to handle those cases, then hurriedly attempted to detain Shin without securing enough evidence.
In short, prosecutors carried out their investigation without making the proper effort. The court’s rejection of that warrant request might help end such practices.
There is some argument that a conspiracy existed ― that prosecutors did not investigate the cases properly to protect someone.
That is not likely true. In fact, it’s the opposite. I can tell the shamed prosecutors have become desperate. Prosecutors remarked that the judge who denied the warrant had been a classmate of Jung Yun-jae. This proves how desperate they are.
Presided over by Prosecutor General Chung Sang-myoung, a group of senior prosecutors met on Monday in the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office. The prosecution’s shock and distress are understandable, but the essence of the problem is not the judge’s rejection of the warrant.
A bigger problem is the prosecution’s old-fashioned way of thinking, and the practice of investigation and detention without sufficient evidence. Human rights are not complete until the rights of seemingly undeserving people are guaranteed as well.
This opportunity should be taken to establish the principle of investigation without detention, regardless of whether a suspect is rich or poor, educated or uneducated, and whether public opinion is in uproar or not. And frankly, the media is not free from such criticism. Together with the prosecution, the media must change.

*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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