Lee lashes out at corruption in law enforcement

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Lee lashes out at corruption in law enforcement

Amid a string of scandals among law-enforcement officials that include a policeman’s alleged assault on of 17-year-old mentally disabled girl, President Lee Myung-bak yesterday called for major overhauls of the nation’s prosecution and police forces.

Lee spoke at a national conference for financial strategies, but criticism of law enforcement dominated his speech.

“Reforming the prosecution and the police is a major task at hand,” he said. “We are seeing corruption in many corners of our society. What’s most alarming is that things that people can’t accept elsewhere have become almost customary in these corners.”

Lee made specific reference to police officers who commit sexual offenses. In the past month alone, a police officer in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, sexually assaulted a mentally disabled 17-year-old girl and a senior officer in Jeju was fired for an attempted sexual assault on a bar waitress.

“Police should be trying to crack down on sex crimes but they’re actually taking part in the criminal act,” Lee said. “Granted, these are exceptional cases, but people are supposed to trust the police, and they can’t [if these incidents continue to happen].”

Lee also commented on the recent bribery scandal involving active and retired prosecutors and said that has also shaken the public’s faith. Last month, a construction company owner in Busan alleged that he had provided cash, gifts and even sex-worker services to dozens of prosecutors over the past two decades in exchange for their aid in case of legal trouble. The accusations were detailed in a current affairs TV program.

The Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office has since formed a special investigative team to probe the allegations. At the start of the investigation last month, Lee had said the prosecution should turn this crisis into an opportunity to shed its old culture.

“Prosecutors and police officers should serve as role models for the people,” Lee said yesterday. “To do that, they must quickly change the old system and culture.

“Prosecutors and police are under a microscope and they can be scrutinized for committing even the most minor of corruption. You can make mistakes in life, but making the same mistake twice would be foolish.”

Lee did find time to address financial issues yesterday. He said that cabinet ministries and other government agencies have been wasting their budgets and demanded more efficiency.

“We have been relatively successful in managing our finances but in the past two years, we have also spent an unprecedented amount of money trying to overcome the global economic crisis,” Lee said. “We’re supposed to achieve our financial balance by 2014. It’s about time we paid more attention to our overall fiscal health and cabinet ministers should all take note of that.”

By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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