Justice Ministry closes Jang case

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Justice Ministry closes Jang case

After a 13-month probe into the death of actress Jang Ja-yeon, the Ministry of Justice said on Monday that it did not recommend a continued investigation of the case due to lack of evidence and expiration of the statute of limitations on key allegations.

Jang committed suicide on March 7, 2009, after leaving a letter in which she claimed to have been forced by her former manager to have sex with influential figures in the entertainment industry to land television roles.

The case on Jang had concluded with no convictions at the time.

It was picked up by the prosecution in April 2018 when a fact-finding team from the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office looked into 15 suspected cases of abusive and unlawful investigations and prosecutorial misconduct in the past under a presidential order.

The Justice Ministry, upon reviewing a report submitted by the team last month, announced Monday that it found Jang was forced to entertain certain influential figures in the entertainment industry with alcoholic drinks; that there was a high likelihood that Jang was sexually harassed during these instances, but that the authorities failed to investigate the case properly in 2009, resulting in a lack of evidence; and that the statute of limitations for sexual harassment had expired.

The ministry added that there was no evidence that an alleged list of names of influential figures that Jang was forced to entertain or have sex with existed or that Jang was forced to have sex with an executive from the Chosun Ilbo newspaper surnamed Bang.

It added, however, that it found evidence that the Chosun Ilbo tried to bury this allegation in 2009 by intimidating and threatening senior police officers, including Cho Hyeon-oh, former commissioner of the National Police Agency, who was head of the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency at the time.

“A national desk editor of Chosun Ilbo came to see me and threatened me,” Cho told authorities, according to the report by the fact-finding committee. “The editor said, ‘Do you know this could mean war between Chosun Ilbo and the Lee Myung-bak administration?’”

Chosun Ilbo denied this allegation in a written statement on Monday.

“That Cho was threatened [by Chosun Ilbo] is a false allegation. Chosun Ilbo and the said editor never met Cho before or after the investigation on Jang’s case,” the paper said in its statement.

The statute of limitations on this allegation expired in 2016.

The only statute of limitations that has not expired is on the allegation that Jang was raped, which is valid until 2024, but the committee did not find enough evidence over the course of the probe, the ministry said.

“There is likelihood that evidence regarding this allegation may be found in the future,” the ministry said in its written statement. “Therefore we made the proposal that the findings of the committee be kept as a record until June 29, 2024.”

Yun Geo, a key witness in the case since 2009, told authorities during the special probe that in one event for entertainment industry figures, “Jang became unconscious even though she had not had a drink of beer.” The Justice Ministry said it did not have enough information to launch a separate investigation into this allegation.

The ministry did recommend further investigation into one thread of the case, which is the allegation that Kim Jong-seung, the CEO of Jang’s agency, falsely testified before the court in his trial in 2012 when he said that he “never physically abused Jang.”

The Justice Ministry noted the “surprising lack of evidence” regarding the case.

“[The way the investigations were conducted in 2009] makes one suspect that there was the intention to hush up the case and hide evidence,” the ministry said in its statement Monday.

Jang’s relatives did not make a statement regarding the investigation.

“We’ve spoken with them,” an official of the Justice Ministry told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The ministry did not publish any findings regarding the relatives’ positions in their statement.

Jang’s relatives sued Jang’s agency for compensation and received a ruling from a local court in 2014 that said that the agency’s CEO Kim must pay Jang’s family 24 million won ($20,066).

According to a writer surnamed Kim, who worked with witness Yun Geo to publish her book “The 13th Testimony,” when the writer texted Yun to “seek the consent of the family before publishing,” Yun replied, “They only care about the money … and would rather hush up the case.”

BY PARK TAE-IN, KIM MIN-SANG AND ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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