A questionable rulingThe scandal with Yoo Jae-soo, former Busan vice mayor convicted of taking bribes, has been mired with irregularities. Yoo came under investigation for misdeeds while he served at the Blue House, but the internal probe was stopped by the top. Despite clear evidence of corruption, he escaped punitive measures and continued to move up to higher public posts. He was finally indicted and faced a trial. Yet he was freed after a Seoul district court suspended an 18-month jail term last week.
Prosecutors described Yoo as a “classic example of a venal government official.” Yoo abused his power for everything — to pocket cash bribes, force the purchase of his books, pay for his plane tickets, holiday gifts and golf rounds, and even demand an interest-free bank loan and a debt write-off. The grafts amounted to a handsome sum. The court found him guilty of most the charges and ordered him to cough out 42.2 million won ($33,900). According to precedent by the Supreme Court, bribe-taking of 30 million won to 50 million won calls for a jail term of three to five years.
Yoo demanded the favors first. He took the money after maintaining relationships for two years or more. He should be slapped with a heavier sentence than the guidance from the top court. Yet the bench gave him the lightest sentence in the first trial on grounds that it had been his first criminal offence. The sentence can hardly be convincing. It is hard to understand how the bench came to conclude that those involved willingly paid him because they had been close. The ruling suggests one can avoid heavy criminal penalties for charges of bribery if one maintains acquaintances for a long time.
The Supreme Court also has a guideline on banning the granting of probation in bribery cases. Although Yoo had been intentional in bribe-taking and was not remorseful, he was nevertheless suspended of a jail term.
Most of the bribes and grafts were taken after the anti-corruption law dubbed the Kim Young-ran Act passed. The law was enacted to prevent public employees from taking any type of money regardless of the conditions, because bribery cases are hard to prove. A maximum three-year term can be enforced if a government employee receives more than 1 million won. Yet the simple reasoning was not applied in Yoo’s case.
If a court makes unilateral interpretations and decisions, the public cannot trust the judiciary. The verdict can influence trials on others like Cho Kuk, former presidential secretary for civil affairs, who are suspected of watching Yoo’s back. The public could suspect the court is making exceptions for people close to the government and president.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 25, Page 34