Prosecutors must act faster

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Prosecutors must act faster

Prosecutors have discovered that Park Young-joon, a former vice minister of state affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office, destroyed records from the Daegu office of Lee Myung-bak’s presidential campaign just one day before a scheduled raid. As in the government surveillance case when government officials destroyed evidence before prosecutors arrived, this action increases suspicion that corruption extends to very high levels.

Park is expected to be summoned by prosecutors for questioning over the scandal related to “pi-city,” a mammoth redevelopment project in southern Seoul, after a real estate developer claimed that he paid bribes to Park and Choi See-joong, one of the closest associates of the president.

Lee Juang-bae said he paid 1 billion won ($882,000) to Park through Lee Dong-yul, a lobbyist who is from the same hometown as the president and Choi. The latter already admitted he had received money from the lobbyist and spent it to conduct opinion polls during the presidential campaign in 2007. Park is also suspected to hold key evidence related to the money.

But prosecutors said materials were gone from the former campaign office when they arrived. They discovered some evidence elsewhere, but key data is still unaccounted for. Many suspected that Choi had behind-the-scenes talks with the minister of justice when the embezzlement scandal around the pi-city development project first broke out in 2010. Thus it is no wonder many suspect there has been a secret compromise to settle the recent case without making too many waves.

Prosecutors must act quickly and discreetly in sensitive and high-profile cases so that suspects have no time to hide evidence. The prosecution of bribery cases largely depends on the evidence and testimony of those involved and requires speedy action, more so than in other cases. Police action usually comes too late, even - or especially - in important cases involving high-profile figures.

The pi-city development project is the largest political corruption case to be handled by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office’s central investigation team since the 2009 scandal involving outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun. The case involves key aides for President Lee Myung-bak and even his older brother, Lee Sang-deuk.

Now, prosecutors finally have a chance to restore their reputation. They must do as promised this time: investigate thoroughly and by the book, not by political influence.

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