Going too farThere is a high stake for prosecutors taking up high-profile cases. Byun Chang-hoon, who leapt to his death on Monday an hour before he was supposed to appear in court for hearing about his detention warrant, used to be a rising star in the Lee Myung-bak administration. He was dispatched to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) as a legal adviser. He became blacklisted after liberal candidate Moon Jae-in became president. He was among the group of prosecutors, including Jeong Jeom-sik, who used to head the security division at the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office and was a part of the team disbanding the left-leaning Unified Progressive Party for pro-North Korea activities that was demoted under the new government.
Byun committed suicide amidst a prosecution probe into the NIS’s alleged slander campaign against opposition party candidates mostly targeting Moon in the 2013 presidential election campaign. He may not have been able to endure the shame of being investigated by his peers.
A week ago, a lawyer who used to work with Byun also committed suicide ahead of the prosecution investigation. Their misdeeds are not light. But prosecutors must stop to check their investigation methods if suspects chose to end their lives rather than face the music.
Many have warned that the prosecution is going too far to the crack down on past wrongdoings. A report found that 40 percent, or 91 out of 241 prosecutors working at the Seoul Central Prosecutor’s Office, are engrossed with investigations of the past misdeeds. Compared with corruption probes in the past, which mostly focused on collusion in the political-business sector, the ongoing crackdown has been comprehensive and expansive.
The prosecution is picking up on the fact that some of the budget appropriated for special operations of the NIS went to former President Park Geun-hye in order to add charges to someone who is already behind bars and being tried. Prosecutors are also investigating her conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. These targets and methods raise questions about political motivations.
Most government offices have formed committees to investigate past wrongdoings or execute reforms. They mostly hunt down officials behind projects in past conservative governments. Bureaucrats complain that they feel like they are living in a revolutionary period. The prosecution must set a guideline to prevent this from going too far.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 7, Page 34