Prosecutorial impropriety

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Prosecutorial impropriety

The case was a total disaster. It was a disturbingly shocking political bribery case that was unprecedented in its handling and its outcome. It caused the former president, who was under investigation, to take his own life, and resulted in the chief prosecutor’s stepping down before the investigation had been concluded. On Friday, the public’s eyes and ears were glued to the prosecutors’ announcement of the results of their six-month investigation into the bribery scandal involving Taekwang Industrial Chairman Park Yeon-cha.

The decision to prosecute 27 people allegedly involved in the case, including seven that were arrested, still leaves much to be desired. The charges against the late President Roh Moo-hyun were understandably dropped, with the results of the investigation into him and his family left undisclosed due to his tragic death. But prosecutors cannot escape the criticism that they failed to disclose the circle of favors bestowed to Park in return for financial contributions and that they took a soft-heeled approach to uncovering the roots of this dirty power game. The results of their investigation were surprisingly dull and ordinary considering that the corruption probe included former and incumbent politicians, judges, prosecutors, presidential aides, tax investigators, police and local government officials.

We understand the prosecutors’ dilemma in deciding to unveil just the “skeleton” of the investigation into the late president. If prosecutors had fully disclosed their findings, they would have brought further pain to his grieving family members while disgracing the deceased, who no longer has a voice with which to defend himself. It also would have generated a political catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Prosecutors, of course, cannot keep investigation records involving a historic figure like the late president sealed forever. But it would be right to disclose them later, at a more appropriate time.

The case should also stand as an important lesson to prosecutors. They must refresh their promise to be completely free from political influence. Few would have doubted the motives or independence of the prosecution if the same investigation had been conducted while Roh was in office. Prosecutors should improve their investigative techniques and find a more tactful halfway point between protecting the accused and revealing the truth.

The tragedy of calling the president and his family to the prosecutors’ office soon after he had retired to his hometown should not be repeated. All those in office should take the lessons of this case to heart. Politicians, meanwhile, should stop trying to exploit Roh’s death for their own benefit and get back to their work.

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