Evidence, not testimony, is key

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Evidence, not testimony, is key

Many senior government officials indicted in connection with the high-profile corruption scandal surrounding mutual savings banks in 2011-12 have been found not guilty on grounds of insufficient evidence. The series of acquittals raises serious questions regarding the prosecution’s investigation procedures and judgment.

The Supreme Court recently agreed with a lower court’s ruling and pronounced Kim Kwang-soo, former commissioner of the Financial Services Commission’s Financial Intelligence Unit, not guilty of receiving 40 million won ($37,700) in kickbacks from executives of Busan Savings Bank.

The central investigation division of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office during the high-profile probe into one of the nation’s largest bribery and corruption scandals - involving 16 savings banks that were shut down in 2011 - indicted Kim based on testimony from the vice chairman of Busan Savings Bank. The same court also confirmed lower courts’ not-guilty rulings on Lee Chul-gyu, former chief of the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency, who was charged with accepting graft from former Jeil Savings Bank Chairman Ryu Dong-cheon.

Their convictions were overruled because they were based on inconsistent and questionable testimony from executives of mutual savings banks. The decisions underscore that prosecution investigations of high-profile political scandals had largely relied on testimony from suspects. The prosecutor should prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant actually committed criminal acts. As a public law enforcement officer, a prosecutor must proceed with investigations and build cases based on the evidence.

The persons cleared of charges had been indicted, with or without detention, and dragged into court for as long as two years. Kim and Lee were dismissed from public office, and they would have to take procedures to clear their names.

The prosecution should have been more thorough when appealing the not guilty rulings by lower courts. Former police chief Lee had been found not guilty in the two lower court trials. The prosecution, however, appealed to the higher court without securing new evidence. The prosecution is simply harassing a defendant if it mechanically appeals without verifiable additional evidence.

Reform of public prosecutors must not stop with ensuring sovereignty in an investigation. Prosecutors also must be banned from abusing their authority to investigate and indict. Ordinary citizens could become more vulnerable to reckless prosecution. Prosecutors must abide by the basics.
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