Foreign Ministry probed on ties to chief justice

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Foreign Ministry probed on ties to chief justice

Prosecutors raided the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday as part of a probe into a massive power abuse scandal involving a former Supreme Court chief justice and the previous administration.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations that the administrative office of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae tried to use politically sensitive trials as bargaining chips with President Park Geun-hye. Yang and officials under him allegedly sought to gain the president’s approval for a new court of appeals that would further strengthen the chief justice’s power.

One of the trials he picked was a compensation suit filed by Korean victims of forced labor during World War II against two Japanese companies. The Supreme Court already ruled in favor of the victims in 2012, but another appeal was pending for unknown reasons until the court resumed the hearing last year.

Prosecutors said Thursday’s raid at the Foreign Ministry was meant to uncover evidence related to the trial. They suspect Yang proposed a ruling that would favor the ministry in exchange for giving judges more opportunities for state-funded overseas study.

The allegation could also be connected to the conservative Park government’s effort to improve ties with Japan. In 2015, her administration signed a controversial agreement with Tokyo under which Korea would no longer seek an apology from Japan for its recruitment of sex slaves during the war in return for a 1 billion yen ($8.95 million) provision.

The deal sparked strong backlash from liberals, and the succeeding Moon Jae-in government vowed to revisit the deal, calling it “gravely flawed.”

A Seoul court issued a search warrant late Wednesday that was limited to ministry divisions which were specifically related to the case.

Prosecutors have sought warrants to search the Supreme Court’s administrative office, judges’ offices and other offices in connection with the alleged power abuse, but the court has turned down most of the requests, citing lack of grounds for search warrants.

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