Records show wealthy inmates abuse visitations

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Records show wealthy inmates abuse visitations

Joo Soo-do, a businessman convicted of massive multi-level marketing fraud, was visited by his lawyers 5,050 times during his three years and eight months in prison, government statistics obtained by a lawmaker showed.

The Ministry of Justice submitted the records of lawyers’ visitations to the detention centers and prisons nationwide to Rep. Joo Kwang-deok of the Saenuri Party. The JoongAng Ilbo analyzed on Monday the data and discovered that Joo Soo-do, former chairman of Korea’s largest multi-level marketing company, JU Group, has been frequently visited by his attorneys since 2013.

Joo was visited 1,503 times by his lawyers in 2013, 2,143 times in 2014 and 983 in 2015. As of late August this year, he met with his lawyers 421 times.

Visitation is not allowed on Sundays and holidays, so he averages five meetings a day with his lawyers over the period he has been in prison.

Joo was detained in 2006 on charges of embezzling 987.5 billion won ($889.6 million) from 141,210 investors. He was tried and convicted in 2007 and ordered to serve 12 years in prison.

While Joo is an extreme case, other convicted businessmen have also abused the system of lawyer visits. A stock investor convicted of embezzlement detained in 2006 had 1,380 visits from his lawyers last year alone.

“There are about 10 conspicuous inmates who had more than 1,000 visits a year by lawyers between 2013 and 2015,” said an official of the Justice Ministry.

In stark comparison, ordinary inmates meet their lawyers once every two months. The annual average number of visits by lawyers was 7.08 in 2013, 6.77 in 2014 and 6.82 in 2015, and that number is inflated by the thousands of visits for a select few.

A meeting with a lawyer takes place in a special interview room that is different from the ordinary room used for visitations by families, friends and relatives. Such visits are considered one way to escape the harsh environment of prison, however briefly.

According to the analysis, most of the convicts who enjoyed copious visits committed massive financial crimes such as embezzlement, fraud and breach of trust. They often use their profits from these crimes to finance the excessive visitations by lawyers.

“It is an overt fact in the law community that there are lawyers specialized in making prison visits by receiving up to 500,000 won at a time,” said a lawyer from a law firm in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. “The rookie lawyers who do not have clients are often acting as butlers for rich inmates.”

The Ministry of Justice currently grants inmates unlimited access to lawyers during office hours.

“The system of lawyer visit is to guarantee an inmate’s human rights and defense during trial,” said Rep. Joo. “But some inmates are abusing the system by buying the time outside their cells. It is intolerable that inmates who cannot afford lawyers are stuck in their cells, while the rich are enjoying special treatment even inside prison.”

He added, “Lawyers must stop this unconscionable practice. I will recommend the Ministry of Justice to reinforce the system. If the loophole remains, I will revise the relevant laws to root out the practice.”

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