Defiance of internal opinionThe Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Tuesday indicted Samsung Group’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong and 10 others on charges of committing accounting fraud and other illegalities in the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries in 2015. The prosecution accused them of committing embezzlement, inside trading and stock manipulation to help Lee’s hereditary succession of the Lee family empire. With this conclusion, the prosecution closed its 22-month-long investigation on the controversial merger of the two Samsung Group units.
The case is now left to the court. But the prosecution’s indictment raises controversy for snubbing internal advice to stop the investigation and indictment on Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics. In June, a panel of outside experts overseeing the validity of high-profile cases recommended that the prosecution stop proceeding with the case, citing a lack of evidences of Lee’s direct involvement in those irregularities.
The advisory panel was set up in 2018 under the Moon Jae-in government. Of the past 10 reviews from the panel, the prosecution ignored only two — one on Lee and the other on the case of alleged collusion between a television reporter and a prosecutor to bribe an imprisoned businessman to testify unfavorably against a pro-government commentator.
It is unclear why Lee Seong-yun — the head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office who publicly challenges Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl — has been pressing with Lee’s indictment. Despite Yoon’s plea to sustain the investigation team after the recommendation from the outside panel, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae transferred the senior prosecutor on the case to the Busan branch of the prosecution followed by the indictment by the head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.
Since the indictment lies solely with the prosecution, its decision cannot be challenged. But the procedure should be transparent and objective.
The case of Samsung raises suspicions about political factors behind the decision. The criminalities should be clearly defined when the prosecution indicts the chief and senior executives of the country’s largest conglomerate. The prosecution must explain why it had to indict them in defiance of the recommendation from the panel.
Politicization of the judiciary has worsened under the Moon Jae-in administration. The court and prosecution must carry out court procedures strictly based on evidence and legal reasoning.