Revamp our prosecution culture

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Revamp our prosecution culture

It is high time to change our prosecution’s worn-out investigation practices of private companies.

A court has rejected an arrest warrant for Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin, citing a lack of evidence for his alleged 50 billion won ($45.5 million) embezzlement and 125 billion won breach of trust charges. The court’s decision means that prosecutors stopped short of convincing judges of the justification for his arrest on jurisprudential grounds.

Following earlier fumbles with the investigation of Posco last year, prosecutors have once again failed to obtain an arrest warrant for Chairman Shin despite their boisterous move to bring him to justice. Before embarking on a massive search and seizure of voluminous documents and hard drives of Lotte affiliates in June, the prosecution said it had strong suspicions on their alleged creation of a 300 billion won slush fund. The prosecution pledged to present concrete evidence as soon as possible.

But prosecutors failed to prove the charges. Their fumbles only fueled public suspicion on the real motivations of their investigation. Amid growing public distrust in the prosecution, its ability to probe into the case came under attack.

The prosecution’s reaction to the court’s judgment deserves harsh criticisms after it failed to catch up with the times. The prosecution expressed deep regret over “the court’s decision solely based on excuses of the defendant.” If the prosecution adheres to politically-motivated investigations followed by random search and seizure, indiscriminate summons of suspects, a request for an arrest warrant, and resistance against the court if the request is turned down, such outmoded proceedings cannot convince the public any more.

In the meantime, Lotte Group should not regard the court’s decision as immunity for Chairman Shin’s suspicions. In the process of the investigation, the fifth largest conglomerate’s non-transparent governance structure was laid bare. Shin’s elder brother and Chairman of SDJ Corporation Shin Dong-joo received over 40 billion won in pay in the last 10 years while doing nothing. The complex ownership structure also dumbfounds us given its outstanding stature in Korea.

Lotte must renovate itself to become a more transparent business group. In particular, it must reestablish its own identity after throwing public doubt on its identity as a Japanese company. After the court rejected the prosecution’s arrest warrant, Chairman Shin vowed to reform the group. People will watch carefully to see if he really keeps that promise.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 30, Page 34
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