Not qualified for the jobDuring a legislative audit session, Jeon Hyun-heui, chairwoman of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC), said that anyone can act as defense counsel for free for acquaintances or friends. The commission is responsible for overseeing the law that bans public employees from receiving graft or money from the private sector. Yet the head of the commission has made a comment that could shake the very law against favoritism and corruption.
A favor is asked of a public employee mostly through private connections. The law was enacted despite its potential encroachment of civil rights to rein in favors based on school, family and acquaintance background. For instance, a student in theory would be breaking the law if he or she hands a canned coffee to their teacher. But ACRC Chairwoman Jeon publicly found Lee Jae-myung — Gyeonggi Governor and the presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Party (DP) — innocent for paying 250 million won ($212,585) for his high-profile legal team, which included two former Supreme Court justices and a Constitutional Court justice, when he was tried for Election Law violation between 2018 and 2020. Hyosung Group Chairman Cho Hyun-joon paid 40 billion won for a similar-scale legal team.
The Anti-graft Law mandates that a public employee must not receive money or any invisible economic gains. Free or cheap legal defense clearly constitutes an invisible economic benefit. Yet Jeon is suspected of publicly speaking in favor of Lee since he is the ruling party’s presidential candidate. If so, she has abandoned her duty of keeping political neutrality.
The commission even maintained that money can be exchanged in a “long-term” relationship. But how one can define a relationship as “long-term” is blurry.
When the DP asked the commission last year to investigate real estate ownership of its lawmakers, she refused, citing her obligation to keep “political neutrality,” as she was a lawmaker of the DP. But she hinted at the possibility of looking into the real estate ownership of lawmakers of the opposition People Power Party (PPP).
She now pardons the DP’s presidential candidate for cheap legal advise. She must withdraw her comment and apologize for having undermined the spirit of the Anti-graft Act.