When breach of trust is too broad

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When breach of trust is too broad

In May 2002, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office arrested Japanese Foreign Ministry official Masaru Sato over breach of trust allegations. He had allegedly misused 33 million yen ($274,900) to pay for a trip to attend a seminar in Israel. It was a part of a targeted investigation, but the prosecutors failed to find any irregularities involving Sato.

And after being detained for 512 days, he was acquitted in the trial.

The comic book “Yuukoku No Rasputin” is based on Sato’s experience, and in them, a prosecutor explains to Sato what “breach of trust” means. “When your boss gives you money to buy medicine for a sick colleague and you bring back hamburgers, that is a breach of trust. If you take the money, it’s embezzlement. I won’t charge you with embezzlement, which leads to heavier sentence, so why don’t you admit to breach of trust?”

That scene is a familiar one. Most recently, former Army Chief of Staff Hwang Ki-chul was acquitted after being indicted for ordering a fabricated assessment report related to supply contracts for the Tongyeong salvage ship. The court ruled that there was no evidence of illegal favors. Just like Sato, no irregularities were found.

Only three countries in the world have what’s known as breach of trust: Korea, Japan and Germany. In Japan and Germany, intention and purpose lead to penalty. However, when breach of trust was introduced in 1953, it was defined as “acts that go against one’s duty” - a wide range.

The following is a conversation between a former and an incumbent prosecutor.

A: One day 20 years ago, I dismissed a warrant for a person involved in a traffic accident, and in the evening, the investigator brought me an envelope of money. When I asked what it was for, he said it was “customary.”

B: Back then, only defendants involved in a traffic accident that resulted in injuries that took three weeks or longer to heal would be convicted. In the old days, prosecutors used the money to drink. After a law assigning heavier punishments in traffic accidents was implemented, drinking outings decreased drastically. It was a big change in the prosecutorial world. Next, it was breach of trust and fraud. A person who does not go through the board of directors for a decision could potentially be charged for breach of trust. It is a barbaric law that allows prosecutors to control businesses.

Breach of trust needs to exist as a means to control slack management by business owners and managers. However, it shouldn’t be abused by those in power. We need to watch out more closely for these types of malpractices.

*The author is a national news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 9, Page 34


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