A half-baked investigation

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A half-baked investigation

The prosecution announced the results of its investigation into the controversial payoff scandal triggered by Sung Wan-jong, a former lawmaker and construction tycoon, who left a detailed list of political bigwigs who allegedly took money from him before he committed suicide in April. A special prosecution team comprised of 13 prosecutors has been digging into the case for 82 days, but the investigation results are quite disappointing. Former Prime Minster Lee Wan-koo and South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo are accused of corruption, but the prosecution stopped short of indicting the remaining six influential politicians for lack of solid evidence.

Special prosecutors say they did their best by interrogating as many as 140 suspects involved in the scandal and conducting 33 rounds of searches and seizure. Of course, they were bound to have trouble proving the charges as Sung killed himself after leaving a list with the names of the eight politicians and amounts of money they allegedly received from him. Despite such limits, however, suspicions linger over the prosecution’s determination to crack the case.

First of all, the prosecution did not probe the bank accounts of the politicians who allegedly took money from Sung at the time of the 2012 presidential election. Even though the names of influential politicians - such as former and incumbent chiefs of staff at the Blue House - were exposed along with the amounts of money they allegedly received, only three, including ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker Hong Moon-jong, were summoned for interrogation. Moreover, the prosecutors tried to clear the suspicions over special pardons for Sung on the sidelines of their ongoing investigation. That prevented the prosecution from focusing on the original scandal.

The prosecution may argue that it cannot trace the bank accounts of those politicians without concrete evidence. However, it must get to the bottom of the case as it involves corruption among political heavyweights from the inner circle of the president. The prosecution must remember that a reinvestigation of a 1997 bribery case involving Hanbo Group Chairman Chung Tae-soo received broad public support thanks to its determination to uncover widespread corruption among politicians.

After the results of the special prosecution probe, the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy immediately attacked it and called for a special prosecutor to reinvestigate the case. That heralds a long political mud fight between the ruling and opposition camps until next year’s general elections. If the prosecution had looked into the case with unflinching determination, it could surely have avoided unnecessary friction and political chaos.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 3, Page 34

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