A better class of questioning

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A better class of questioning

A chief executive of a manufacturing supplier of mobile phone and computer accessories who was summoned by the prosecution involving the probe on Sun Jong-koo, CEO of electronic appliance retailer Hi-Mart, on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion, committed suicide. He was among the deponents who helped the case by testifying or offering evidence against the suspect. But his suicide raises questions on the prosecution’s interrogation method and system.

So far this year, four have taken their own lives while facing questioning from prosecutors. A Korea Hydro & Nuclear executive killed himself in February amidst a prosecutor probe on bribery charges at the Gori nuclear complex. In January, the chairman of a mutual savings bank and an executive member at a university in Mokpo committed suicide after being summoned by prosecutors. In November last year, a bank executive ended his own life as prosecutors dug into illegalities at suspended mutual savings banks.

Prosecutors defended that there had been nothing extraordinary in their interrogations. But families of the CEO of the mobile phone accessories company accused prosecutors of threatening and coercing him to testify against Hi-Mart’s Sun. A prosecutor was quoted as saying he will follow him to hell to get the testimony, and threatened to summon even his children.

Prosecutors’ summoning and questioning of deponents and witnesses have often been criticized for going beyond the legal boundaries. Unlike suspects’, deponents’ rights are not defined by law to be able to refuse testimony or demand lawyers to be present at the questioning. Law enforcement officials sometimes abuse the loophole and call upon suspects as deponents to get testimonies against prime suspects in return for plea bargains. Deponents can refuse prosecutors’ summoning, but cannot avoid interrogation.

Deponents and witnesses are put under immense pressure if they are forced to verify specific facts. The CEO who recently committed suicide during questioning on the Hi-Mart case was interrogated for 10 hours. He had also been asked by prosecutors to bring in material for the case in person four separate times. He had confessed to a friend that a beating would have been better than the harassment. Deponents serve to help the case, and their summoning should be kept to a minimum. If their criminal acts are verified, they should be given the right to defend themselves. The criminal law should be revised to specify the rights of deponents versus witnesses’.

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