Police must prove themselves

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Police must prove themselves

Police raided the Seongnam City Hall on Monday as part of the investigation that Lee Jae-myung, former presidential candidate for ruling Democratic Party, collected donations from companies via the football club Seongnam FC under the city government when Lee was mayor. The police finally took action amid suspicions about dilly-dallying on cases related to the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and government figures.

The police must prove it can live up to its outsized role from the weakening of the prosecution by finding the truth behind various allegations surrounding Lee, who also served as the Gyeonggi governor after his mayorship.

Lee is suspected to have received 16 billion won ($12.6 million) from six companies based in the city — Doosan, Naver, NH Nonghyup, Bundang Cha Hospital, Hyundai Department Store, and Alpha Dome City — when he was the mayor and co-head of the football club from 2015 and 2017 and in return awarded them various property-related and city favors.

Lee was accused of bribery by the opposition in June 2018, but the police decided not to refer the case to the prosecution in September last year after doing little beyond conducting written questioning for more than three years. Upon a complaint from the accuser, the case was assigned to Seongam District Prosecutors’ Office in October last year but has not progressed since.

Although the investigative team at the district prosecutors’ office asked for supplementary investigation, office head Park Eun-jeong deemed pro-government was suspected of denying further expansion in the investigation. Her junior prosecutor even handed in resignation in protest in January.

The district office asked for additional investigation by the police of Bundang in February, but no actions followed until the presidential election on March 9. Two months after Lee’s defeat, the police have finally moved onto an expanded investigation. Police last month raided the Gyeonggi Provincial government office over the allegation that Lee’s wife used a corporate card while Lee was governor. Both cases must be dealt with fairness and strictness so as not to generate any more suspicions.

The DP has unilaterally passed two controversial revisions to the Prosecution Act and the Criminal Procedure Act in the National Assembly. As a result, most of the investigative powers of the prosecution will be transferred to the police. But whether the police can live up to its greater responsibility is uncertain.

The police must try to prove its ability and earn public trust. It must show no wavering in political neutrality and fairness in investigation. The bigger role could pose as an opportunity as well as crisis for the police institution.
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