Our brazen prosecutorsProsecutor General Han Sang-dae stepped down to settle one of the worst periods of internal conflict in the country’s top law enforcement agency. The prosecution inevitably will have to answer mounting calls for self-imposed and drastic reforms.
In a press conference, Han apologized for recent bribery and sex scandals involving prosecutors. “I will accept any criticism and reprimand for people who abused their power and committed crimes,” he said. Han could not avoid taking responsibility for running such a poor shop. He also canceled his plan to announce his own reform plan.
Under his leadership, the prosecution came under fire for unfairness and slackness in investigating the purchase of a retirement residence by the family of President Lee Myung-bak and government spying on ordinary citizens.
But the onus should not fall entirely on hapless Han. Prosecutors should ask themselves if they are guiltless of abuse of authority in overplaying their hands in appointments. Seok Dong-hyeon, chief of the Seoul Dongbu District Prosecutors’ Office, left a sensible word of advice to his colleagues when he resigned over a scandal over an inappropriate sexual relationship involving his subordinate: “The public’s distrust and resentment has exploded due to prosecutors’ high-handedness, arrogance and snobbishness.”
We have to ask each one of the prosecutors: Why have they turned a blind eye toward misconduct but get enraged when someone tries to scale down their authority? Their office will continue to be questioned if they do not come down from their high horses and stand on the side of the people.
The prosecution has been mocked as the poodle of political force due to excessive intervention by the government. Senior posts were handed out to prosecutors coming from the same hometown of President Lee Myung-bak or the schools he attended. Cronyism dominated appointments and deliberately undermined the prosecution’s independence. Corrupt prosecutors receiving luxury cars or corporate sponsorships made news.
The prosecution is now at a crucial turning point. There are various suggestions on how to reform it: shutting down the elite central investigation unit, establishing independent investigation offices, and employing a civilian juror system. A total of 11 prosecutors general, including Han, have been forced to step down before finishing their two-year terms. The prosecution should initiate reforms from within and vow its political neutrality if it wants to have a clean, respected future.