Prosecutor suspended for 60 days

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Prosecutor suspended for 60 days

The Ministry of Justice on Wednesday ordered a two-month suspension of duty for senior prosecutor Kim Hyung-joon, who is currently being investigated for receiving bribes and lobbying fellow prosecutors to conceal evidence against him.

“It would be inappropriate for Kim to continue his work as a senior prosecutor,” said Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam, who requested the Ministry of Justice to order the suspension.

In order to investigate whether Kim received 15 million won ($13,710) as bribes from his friend, Kim Hee-seok, who is detained under charges of embezzlement and fraud, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office is putting together a special investigation team at the internal inspection bureau.

“The special investigation team will be able to quickly and thoroughly conduct the probe into Kim,” said a representative from the internal inspection bureau. The team will comprise 14 prosecutors and investigators, and will be led by An Byoung-ik, head of the inspection department at the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office.

Kim is also accused of trying to lobby fellow prosecutors to go easy on his friend, likely in order to hide evidence of his alleged bribery receipt. Kim’s friend has been investigated by authorities since April for allegedly embezzling 1.5 billion won from his electronic parts retail company and swindling a business partner out of 5 billion won. While the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office appears to be moving busily to investigate and discipline Kim, it has actually taken them at least three months to move forward, drawing criticism and suspicion that prosecutors have been trying to protect their man.

In April, the Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office began investigating Kim’s friend when a business partner sued him. Prosecution handed the case over to local police in Mapo District in western Seoul on April 26.

But when police found evidence in May that some of the money embezzled by Kim’s friend’s led to him, they requested prosecution on May 3 and again on May 13 for a warrant to seize and search the banking account of Kim’s friend. Prosecutors dismissed them.

The documents that police submitted to prosecutors to request the warrant contained the name of senior prosecutor Kim Hyung-joon.

Then on May 19, the Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office notified police to hand the case back over to the prosecution.

“Given the weight of the case and the need to conduct investigations speedily,” the prosecution team reportedly said in its notification to police, “the prosecution will take the case back.”

“We had to return the case back to prosecutors without knowing why,” said a Mapo police officer. “I suspect that prosecutors may have been trying to cover up for one of their own.”

A prosecution official said otherwise.

“The prosecutors received another lawsuit against Kim’s friend,” the official said, “and decided it will be best for the prosecution to handle the two lawsuits.”

The news of Kim’s alleged bribery scandal broke on Monday when Kim’s friend was apprehended in a public sauna in Wonju, Gangwon, after going on the lam on Aug. 28, when his pretrial detention warrant hearing was scheduled. He spoke to reporters about Kim’s alleged bribery scandal on Monday at the Seoul Western District Court.

“I often treated Kim to drinks and gave him money,” Kim’s friend said. “Every time we had drinks together it would cost something between 4 to 5 million won and I’d also give him about 1 to 2 million won at the end of our gatherings.”

He added, “[Part of] the money I gave Kim went to his secret mistress.”

Kim and his friend were middle and high school classmates and have been friends for roughly 30 years.

BY YOON HO-JIN, KIM YOUNG-MIN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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