A self-inflicted injuryA request for an arrest warrant for Woo Byung-woo, the last senior presidential secretary for civil affairs for former President Park Geun-hye, has again been turned down. The same court had refused to approve his arrest, sought by an independent counsel, in February. The court turned down the renewed request, claiming that the reasons state prosecutors put forward are too weak to justify concerns that Woo is a flight risk.
It clearly shows that the state prosecution did not build a strong case against Woo. It does not make sense for a key suspect accused of aiding and abetting, instead of stopping, Choi Soon-sil in her exercise of influence over state affairs and wealth-building through her personal connection to the president to walk around as a free man while both Park and Choi have been arrested.
Woo is said to have been the most powerful presidential secretary in charge of overseeing law enforcement organizations, domineering over the prosecution investigations and even meddling in appointments. Few people would understand the rationale behind the judiciary softness towards Woo.
The court denial of an arrest warrant for Woo is hardly surprising, given the trajectory of the investigation. The early state prosecution probe into the Park and Choi scandal thoroughly favored Woo. From July to October, the Justice Ministry’s director general in charge of the prosecution called Woo every day.
The prosecutor general and head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office also talked with Woo about every critical development. The prosecutors delved into irregularities in Woo’s family business, but left the findings out of the investigation report.
The independent counsel was equally lenient. Although Woo was suspected to have been involved in key allegations, including the leak of classified documents written up by Chung Yoon-hoi, former chief of staff to Park and husband to Choi, the counsel probe circled more around former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon.
The prosecution cannot avoid being criticized for showing Woo preferential treatment. His physical detention is not a must. But the investigation must be thorough. The fact that Woo alone does not have an accomplice may be because the prosecution has been helping him. If the prosecution does not clean up its act, it may have to be forced to do so.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 13, Page 34