Credibility at stakeMoon Hyung-pyo, former minister of health and welfare who currently heads the National Pension Service, became the first target for pretrial detention by the independent counsel investigating the power abuse scandal involving the president.
That suggests that the special counsel is collecting evidence and building a bribery case against President Park Geun-hye by investigating the NPS’s vote of approval as a major shareholder of Samsung C&T of the merger with Cheil Industries. The merger was known to be part of the consolidation of control by Samsung heir apparent Lee Jae-yong. But it was also criticized as being unfair to many shareholders. The NPS was among the first to be raided by the special investigation team last week and an arrest warrant for Moon was filed within the first eight days.
The independent counsel suspects Moon, as health and welfare minister, pressured the NPS to approve the merger in July 2015 and wants to charge him with abuse of power and lying in legislative questioning. It believes Moon’s pressure was connected with Samsung’s financing of the equestrian training of Chung Yoo-ra, daughter of the president’s controversial friend Choi Soon-sil. It believes former senior presidential secretary An Chong-bum was involved in all these dealings as well as the president and Choi. Implicating Moon could allow the independent counsel to file bribery charges against Park.
The independent counsel is also investigating areas prosecutors didn’t dare to touch, such as the mysterious whereabouts of Park during the first seven hours of the sinking of the Sewol ferry, a government blacklist of liberal figures in the arts and how Choi and her family came into colossal wealth. Its selective and concentrated investigation raises public confidence about the outcome of the probe.
But it remains uncertain whether the investigation can deliver on all of its promises. The independent counsel should be extra careful that it not produce backlash after conducting its investigation. It must demonstrate what it is capable of through discretion and expertise.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 30, Page 30