[Viewpoint] Lim forgets the prosecution’s legacy

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[Viewpoint] Lim forgets the prosecution’s legacy

From 1948 to 1950, the Republic of Korea was in its infancy. Ironically, however, this was the most mature period in terms of the independence of the prosecutors. In 1949, Choi Dae-gyo, the chief prosecutor of the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office, was investigating Minister of Commerce Im Yeong-sin for allegedly taking a bribe.

Minister Im was a high-profile female official favored by President Syngman Rhee. President Rhee urged the justice minister not to indict Minister Im. In turn, the justice minister told the prosecutors that they would need his permission to indict a sitting minister. But Prosecutor Choi went on to indict Minister Im regardless, arguing that this was a prosecutor’s right.

In 1950, the political brokers of the Syngman Rhee administration ran a private investigative group called the Korean Political Operatives. They captured people for alleged involvement with the Communist Party. The prosecutors began an investigation into this group. President Rhee sent a handwritten note to Prosecutor General Kim Ik-jin instructing him not to indict the Korean Political Operatives. But the prosecutor general stuffed the memo into a desk drawer and went on to indict them anyway.

Kim Ik-jin and Choi Dae-gyo are considered the most righteous prosecutors in the 60-year history of prosecutors in Korea, according to “People Living with the Law” by Lee Yeong-geun, Kim Choong-sik and Hwang Ho-tae.

The prosecutor general is the head of the prosecutors, the one with the actual power to conduct investigations. Therefore, the attitude of the prosecutor general has a decisive impact on the independence of the prosecutors. The prosecutor general is supposed to defend the organization from all outside pressure, even from the president, with determination, considering the position the greatest honor of his public career. To guarantee the independence of the prosecutors, the prosecutor general’s term is guaranteed for two years. If the prosecutor general resigns before his or her term expires, a convincing and necessary reason must be provided. And the timing of the resignation must be prudent as well. Were the timing of Prosecutor General Lim Chae-jin’s resignation and the reasons behind it legitimate?

When he expressed his intention to resign, he said, “I am having a hard time maintaining my composure due to my humane agony.”

In an interview with the Munhwa Ilbo, he said, “I was in a dilemma, caught between being a man and being a prosecutor.”

Lim had been appointed by former President Roh Moo-hyun three months before the end of the last administration. When he mentioned “humane agony” and “being a man,” he seemed to have in mind the unimaginable tragedy of the former president, the very man who had appointed him, committing suicide while under investigation.

Prosecutor General Lim might have confused his role as prosecutor with his feelings as a man. The president gave him his letter of appointment, but the actual entity that appointed him to the prosecutor general position was the state. From the moment of their appointment, all prosecutor generals should think of the president as just another citizen equal before the law. If prosecutors feel personal pressure due to receiving their letters of appointment from certain presidents, they would neglect the “duty to be psychologically independent,” with which they have been charged by the state.

Of course, a prosecutor is only human, so he is susceptible to personal anguish. However, he needs to keep such struggles within himself. Lim should have locked up the personal agony and thought about the state and the law as prosecutor general. Instead of getting caught up in a dilemma, he should have chosen the way of the prosecutor over the way of the man.

Just as Prosecutor General Lim said himself, the investigation into former President Roh Moo-hyun was a legitimate one. However, there were some faults in the course of the investigation. Former chief of staff Moon Jae-in says that Roh was shocked and exhausted when his wife confessed to him that she had received money from Park Yeon-cha.

If Moon’s testimony is true, former President Roh’s claim that he was not aware of the transaction is likely to be true. When Roh claimed that he was not informed, the prosecutors assumed he was lying and rashly proceeded with a charge of “comprehensive bribery.”

The speculation over the gift of a watch was also inappropriate behavior toward a former president. Lim should have considered resigning not because of his personal agony but because of these mistakes. And the timing would be more appropriate after the investigation into Park Yeon-cha wraps up.

By mentioning personal agony, Lim has given up the straight road of the prosecutor for the crooked one of the man. It is a road Kim Ik-jin and Choi Dae-gyo would never have taken.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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