The sword is blunted

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The sword is blunted

Kim Won-bae
The author is a national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.



“We have witnessed many times how the prosecutorial power had been used, either through selective investigation or selective exercise of justice by making the sword dull or choosing not to take it from the scabbard,” Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae said in a hearing on June 25 to argue for the creation of a new state investigation agency devoted to corruption among senior public officials. She was criticizing past ill practices of the prosecution. The point is pertinent about today’s prosecutors too.
 
Choo has been the most powerful justice minister. She wielded power beyond legal boundaries and neutralized Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl by demoting all of his followers. Even as the prosecution is theoretically an independent body, Yoon could not even appoint his own aides in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. As Yoon’s power receded, Choo’s rose. Choo’s supports argue that it was all necessary for prosecutorial reforms, or “democratic control” of the top law enforcement agency.
 
The so-called democratic control is being unilaterally applied as Choo comes under scrutiny for favors given to her son during his military service three years ago, when she was head of the ruling Democratic Party (DP). The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office has been sitting on the case for eight months. Her son is accused of not returning to his military base after sick leave without presenting proper medical records. An officer at the base testified that an aide of Choo made a phone call to the unit to ask for an extension of Choo’s son’s leave. The investigation team at the Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office did not include the statement in the report. The sword must have become blunt if the prosecutors in question chose not to put such a decisive testimony on record.
 
Prosecutorial investigations have become opaque after public disclosures were banned after former Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family came under scrutiny. Although the toughened disclosure rule was in theory aimed at protecting suspects in cases of the grounds of presumption of innocence, it more or less cut off any kind of public view of the prosecution’s high-profile investigations.
 
Reporters can learn of the progress only through the recollections of people who were questioned by the prosecution. This is how the media reported on the accounts of fellow soldiers of Choo’s son. Choo accused the media of “colluding with the prosecution behind the scene.”
 
But what about the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office that excluded the statement about Choo’s aide making a call to her son’s military base? The district prosecutors’ office remains mum. Somehow, “prosecutorial reforms” or the theories of “prosecution-media collusion” have become a magic wand for covering up a certain person’s wrongdoings and a tool for uniting allies. Any reports unfavorable to key figures under suspicion of wrongdoing are accused of being collusions with antigovernment forces in the prosecution to resist prosecutorial reforms.
 
Justice Minister Choo said the case of her son would be “thoroughly investigated” and explained to the legislature. She vowed that she would not be briefed on the progress of her son’s case. Who can believe her sincerity? The track record is clear. If anyone is defiant of the justice minister, they will be demoted.
 
On the other hand, many prosecutors who proactively pursued cases favorable to the government got promoted. Jung Jin-woong — a mid-level prosecutor who was engaged in a physical brawl with top prosecutor Han Dong-hoon while raiding his office on the case of allegations that he had colluded with a conservative media outlet to force a convicted businessman to testify against a pro-government commentator — faced an internal inspection for abuse of power. Yet he ended up being promoted as deputy to the prosecutorial office in Gwangju City.
 
The top law enforcement agency has become tamed through the justice minister’s abuse of its appointment power. Prosecutors now grumble that few will speak up against Choo because “one gets demoted for doing his work or promoted for not doing it.” If Choo is sincere about a thorough and speedy investigation into her son’s case, she must give specific orders.
 
Prosecutorial reforms are not possible if the administration divides the investigative power between prosecutors and police officers or sets up a separate investigation agency aimed at probing corruption of high-level officials. More important than that is whether the prosecution can come up with investigation results deserving public credibility. To do so, neutrality in investigations is essential. To ensure neutrality, organizational sovereignty is essential.
 
However, Choo’s relentless campaign to strip the prosecutor general of his right to reflect his views in a reshuffle in the name of prosecutorial reforms, or for the sake of “democratic control” has only demoralized the prosecution. Reform is useless if prosecutors use their blunt swords in the face of political power.“We have witnessed many times how the prosecutorial power had been used, either through selective investigation or selective exercise of justice by making the sword dull or choosing not to take it from the scabbard,” Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae said in a hearing on June 25 to argue for the creation of a new state investigation agency devoted to corruption among senior public officials. She was criticizing past ill practices of the prosecution. The point is pertinent about today’s prosecutors too.
 
Choo has been the most powerful justice minister. She wielded power beyond legal boundaries and neutralized Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl by demoting all of his followers. Even as the prosecution is theoretically an independent body, Yoon could not even appoint his own aides in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. As Yoon’s power receded, Choo’s rose. Choo’s supports argue that it was all necessary for prosecutorial reforms, or “democratic control” of the top law enforcement agency.
 
The so-called democratic control is being unilaterally applied as Choo comes under scrutiny for favors given to her son during his military service three years ago, when she was head of the ruling Democratic Party (DP). The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office has been sitting on the case for eight months. Her son is accused of not returning to his military base after sick leave without presenting proper medical records. An officer at the base testified that an aide of Choo made a phone call to the unit to ask for an extension of Choo’s son’s leave. The investigation team at the Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office did not include the statement in the report. The sword must have become blunt if the prosecutors in question chose not to put such a decisive testimony on record.
 
Prosecutorial investigations have become opaque after public disclosures were banned after former Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family came under scrutiny. Although the toughened disclosure rule was in theory aimed at protecting suspects in cases of the grounds of presumption of innocence, it more or less cut off any kind of public view of the prosecution’s high-profile investigations.
 
Reporters can learn of the progress only through the recollections of people who were questioned by the prosecution. This is how the media reported on the accounts of fellow soldiers of Choo’s son. Choo accused the media of “colluding with the prosecution behind the scene.”
 
But what about the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office that excluded the statement about Choo’s aide making a call to her son’s military base? The district prosecutors’ office remains mum. Somehow, “prosecutorial reforms” or the theories of “prosecution-media collusion” have become a magic wand for covering up a certain person’s wrongdoings and a tool for uniting allies. Any reports unfavorable to key figures under suspicion of wrongdoing are accused of being collusions with antigovernment forces in the prosecution to resist prosecutorial reforms.
 
Justice Minister Choo said the case of her son would be “thoroughly investigated” and explained to the legislature. She vowed that she would not be briefed on the progress of her son’s case. Who can believe her sincerity? The track record is clear. If anyone is defiant of the justice minister, they will be demoted.
 
On the other hand, many prosecutors who proactively pursued cases favorable to the government got promoted. Jung Jin-woong — a mid-level prosecutor who was engaged in a physical brawl with top prosecutor Han Dong-hoon while raiding his office on the case of allegations that he had colluded with a conservative media outlet to force a convicted businessman to testify against a pro-government commentator — faced an internal inspection for abuse of power. Yet he ended up being promoted as deputy to the prosecutorial office in Gwangju City.
 
The top law enforcement agency has become tamed through the justice minister’s abuse of its appointment power. Prosecutors now grumble that few will speak up against Choo because “one gets demoted for doing his work or promoted for not doing it.” If Choo is sincere about a thorough and speedy investigation into her son’s case, she must give specific orders.
 
Prosecutorial reforms are not possible if the administration divides the investigative power between prosecutors and police officers or sets up a separate investigation agency aimed at probing corruption of high-level officials. More important than that is whether the prosecution can come up with investigation results deserving public credibility. To do so, neutrality in investigations is essential. To ensure neutrality, organizational sovereignty is essential.
 
However, Choo’s relentless campaign to strip the prosecutor general of his right to reflect his views in a reshuffle in the name of prosecutorial reforms, or for the sake of “democratic control” has only demoralized the prosecution. Reform is useless if prosecutors use their blunt swords in the face of political power.
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