Lawmakers clash over legality of Cho probeLawmakers in the parliamentary Legislation and Judiciary Committee clashed Monday over the legality of the prosecution’s probe of Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family as senior prosecutors were summoned to the National Assembly to attend the committee’s annual audit of the judiciary.
The prosecutors refused to offer a clear-cut answer to most of the questions on the ongoing Cho investigation, yet the ruling Democratic Party (DP), which strongly supports Cho, took every chance to accuse the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office of breaking laws and attempting to make the probe “a political issue” to attract attention from detractors of Cho and the Moon Jae-in administration.
Committee members of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) accused the DP of pressuring prosecutors to go easy on Cho and his family, saying the attitude was ironic to what the party had shown in the previous conservative administration.
“There are a lot of exclusive media reports [on the Cho investigation] that cites the source of the information as ‘a person related to the prosecution,’” DP Rep. Park Ju-min said during the audit session, held at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul.
“Is it legal or illegal for someone in the prosecution to leak information about suspects in a criminal investigation to the press before their formal indictment?” Park asked.
Pyo Chang-won, another DP lawmaker, added that the amount of information that prosecutors leak to the media in such fashion determines whether the investigation becomes a political issue.
“At the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors’ Office, if a news outlet specifically mentions a person as a suspect in their report or says how a probe is expected to unfold, the office bans access to reporters from that outlet,” said DP Rep. Song Ki-hun.
“The prosecution must devise an effective solution if it wishes to gain trust,” Song warned.
Bae Sung-bom, chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, which has been investigating Cho’s family on a litany of allegations, dodged any criticism on the prosecution’s part.
“At the beginning of the probe when this first became an issue, we received written oaths from every prosecutor and investigator [involved in the Cho probe not to pre-disclose details about the suspects], and we educate deputy prosecutors every day [about it],” said Bae.
“There are many cases when reporters get quotes from someone related to the investigation or their lawyers. It’s impossible for the prosecution to restrain each and every one of those instances,” Bae continued.
Rep. Chang Je-won of the LKP accused DP lawmakers of attacking the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office like “a swarm of bees,” saying it was legal for prosecutors to release information about criminal suspects to the press before their indictment if the details fall within the boundary of freedom of press.
Chang encouraged prosecutors to “investigate diligently.”
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, YONHAP [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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