Prosecution wraps up probe into judiciary

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Prosecution wraps up probe into judiciary

Ten former and current judges were indicted Tuesday on charges of power abuse and leaking confidential information as prosecutors effectively ended their months-long probe into a major scandal that has plagued Korea’s judiciary.

At the center of that scandal was former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae, whose request for bail was rejected from a local court on the same day.

Yang, who headed the Supreme Court from 2011 to 2017 during the former conservative Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations, asked the court last month to review his request for bail, claiming he needs time and physical freedom to prepare for his trial.

Yang was arrested on Jan. 24 on charges of interfering with trials seeking political leverage to lobby officials in the previous Park government to support his plan to establish a separate court of appeals. He was accused of having pressed his underlings in the National Court Administration, the top court’s governing body, to devise plans to influence politically sensitive trials for the former president.

On Feb. 11, prosecutors indicted Yang on 47 counts of alleged crimes, most of which had to do with power abuse, loss of national property and leaking of state secrets. The indictment was the first issued against a former head of the judiciary.

Among the judges indicted Tuesday were Lee Min-geol, a former chief planning official at the National Court Administration; Lee Kyu-jin, a former member of the Supreme Court’s sentencing committee; and Yoo Hae-yong, a former chief judicial researcher at the Supreme Court.

Notably, Sung Chang-ho, a former judge of the Seoul Central District Court, was also indicted on charges of disclosing official secrets.

He is known for sentencing South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo in January to two years in prison for colluding with a power blogger to carry out a massive online opinion-rigging scheme to help President Moon Jae-in ahead of the 2017 presidential election.

Prosecutors accused him of reporting official secrets related to a bribery scandal to a senior judge at the Seoul Central District Court in 2016.

Including Yang and those who were indicted Tuesday, 14 former and current judges have been indicted so far in the scandal.

Aside from the indictments, prosecutors said they’ve informed the Supreme Court about the misconduct of 66 incumbent judges, including those who were indicted this week, in order for the court to decide whether they should be penalized at work or not. A spokesman from the top court said it was planning to review the information and decide whether any punishment was necessary. A prosecutor said Tuesday that their probe into Yang and his associates wasn’t entirely over yet, because if prosecutors receive new testimonies during the trial, they could indict more people.

Conspicuously missing from the list of judges who were indicted Tuesday were Kwon Soon-il, a judge who chairs the National Election Commission, and Cha Han-sung, a former judge. Both used to work at the National Court Administration while Yang served as chief justice and were once accused of classifying judges by their political views to sideline leftists.

Cha was also accused of being involved in the Supreme Court’s indefinite deferral of suits filed by former Korean laborers against Japanese companies that forced them into labor during World War II so that the Park administration could avoid a diplomatic clash with Japan.

Prosecutors squashed those allegations on Tuesday, saying both issues appeared not to have been “earnestly discussed” in the National Court Administration while Kwon and Cha were serving in the top court’s governing body.

With the probe into the Yang scandal now practically finished, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office announced Tuesday that it launched a five-member special task force to tackle issues harming the public, including crimes related to cryptocurrency and illegal private loans.

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