A suspicious toothache (KOR)Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo’s sudden vacation amid deepening disgruntlement about the prosecution’s half-baked investigation into the Daejang-dong land development scandal raises suspicions. His abrupt leave at a sensitive moment when both the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and opposition People Power Party (PPP) complain about the probe looks very inappropriate. It only helps deepen public distrust in the top law enforcement agency given DP presidential candidate and former Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung’s possible involvement in the development project — abnormally lucrative for a precious few — approved by Lee when he was Seongnam mayor.
Prosecutor General Kim all of a sudden took a vacation from Wednesday through Friday. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office says he had to take a half-day leave to pull out a tooth at a dental office on Wednesday afternoon. But the prosecutor general originally planned to take a leave from Friday through next Monday.
Any government official can take a vacation if necessary. The problem is the timing. After prosecutors’ investigation of the scandal started on September 23, political circles are demanding an investigation by a special prosecutor. The prosecutor general’s sudden leave makes us wonder if he tried to avoid responsibility as he has been criticized for his lukewarm investigation of the case.
A conflict between the top prosecutor and reporters also erupted over the checking by the Inspection Department at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office of the digital forensic results of a public smartphone the top prosecution office’s spokesperson used to communicate with journalists. Earlier, the inspection department seized the phone from the spokeswoman without a court-issued warrant to look into her conversations with reporters over PPP presidential candidate and former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl’s alleged instruction to his aides to help the PPP file criminal complaints against political figures close to the DP — and also over Yoon’s alleged order to respond to allegations against his mother-in-law allegedly involved in fraud. After the inspection department’s excessive action, the prosecution faced criticism for censorship of the press. The inspection department actually pushed digital forensics on several smartphones used by spokespersons when Yoon served as prosecutor general.
After representatives of a number of media outlets complained about the confiscation in their visit to Kim’s office, he excused himself by saying he was only briefed about the forensic results but did not approve the forensics. That’s nothing but sophistry.
The fact that Kim had taken a sudden vacation was disclosed when a group of reporters visited his office on Wednesday afternoon once again to complain about the phone confiscation. The top prosecutor may have tried to avoid them by suddenly taking a vacation to go to the dentist. In the meantime, the head of an investigation team at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, which has been handling the Daejang-dong case, is under quarantine after he tested positive for Covid-19. Another senior prosecutor also took leave from Monday through Wednesday. The prosecution’s investigation is rapidly losing steam.