Prosecution in its worst crisisThe story of the prosecution “corporate sponsorship” scandal shows how easily prosecutors can fall prey to pampering and graft, eventually growing trapped in a vicious cycle of corruption. The prosecution collectively and habitually grew accustomed to receiving royal treatment by corrupt businesspeople because of their authority to investigate and indict crimes, and eventually they no longer felt any hesitation or guilt for their wrongdoing. The exposure of local prosecutors’ dirty connections led to public shock, disgust and mistrust of the entire institution. We fear the scandal could seriously undermine future investigations and indictments.
Over the last 48 days, an internal affairs team carried out a probe into the scandal at Busan and the Gyeongsang prosecution offices, which involved more than 100 former and incumbent prosecutors, investigators and bar hostesses. The team recommended the prosecutor general dismiss two senior prosecutors and take disciplinary action against eight others. The team did not suggest criminal charges, since while the prosecutors were entertained with meals and drinks, they did not explicitly offer special treatment to the company in return. Critics and activists lashed out against the findings.
But the ugly side of the prosecution has been nevertheless exposed. The prosecution must develop radical reforms to polish its image regardless of the team’s suggestions. Some may argue that the affair involves a small number of corrupt prosecutors, but their attitudes have fatally damaged the prosecution’s image. The office must not stop at recruiting outside supervisors, creating ethics codes and revamping the culture as outlined by the internal affairs team. We have been through this many times before. Senior prosecutors are sacked for pocketing kickbacks and every time, the prosecution promises to clean its act. But the recent sponsorship scandal shows that they have been deceiving us.
The prosecution plans to discipline the prosecutors connected with the scandal and embark on sweeping reform measures. One of the steps may include civilian supervision. But stopgap steps won’t work. Few believe the prosecutors will suddenly turn honest and credible with a few disciplinary actions and reforms. A minor nip and tuck won’t be sufficient. The prosecution needs major surgery inside and out.
The leadership must realize the prosecution now faces its worst crisis ever. If it doesn’t commit to an overhaul right now, it will have to endure a corrupt image as slaves of political power. The leadership must take strong measures before the National Assembly offers to do the job for them by creating a special investigative team. The public is waiting for a serious transformation to take place.