What has the CIO done so far?The high-profile investigation aimed at then-presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol that weighed over the presidential race for eight months has been wrapped up without any major findings. The Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) cleared now President-elect Yoon and his justice minister nominee Han Dong-hoon of any accusations of violating the Election Act as well as other charges. The CIO had deployed more than half of its prosecutorial staff to the investigation, but achieved little.
Out of a long list of suspects, it only indicted Sohn Joon-seong, a prosecutor on human rights at the Daegu High Prosecutors’ Office, without physical detention. Who had ordered the prosecutor to collude with the opposition People Power Party (PPP) to file complaints against public figures close to the ruling camp has not been verified. As a result, the charges of power abuse have also been dropped. Due to lack of strong grounds, charges against Sohn, including violations of the Election Act, will likely face a heated debate at the courts.
While launching a probe into the case in September last year, the CIO acted as if it was dealing with a grave corruption network. Just three days after the case was registered, the CIO filed Yoon as a suspect behind the scheme and raided the offices of Sohn and PPP lawmaker Kim Woong, a former prosecutor close to Yoon. The ruling front attacked Yoon based on the CIO investigation.
But questions began to rise after the CIO’s requests for an arrest warrant for Sohn were repeatedly rejected by the court. It lost capacity to build a case against Kim after the court found the search and raid illegal. Controversy over illegal spying and violation of civilian rights were raised after the CIO sought access and looked into telecommunication records of opposition lawmakers and journalists over the course of its investigation.
The CIO drew skepticism on its capacity and existential purpose. Even its deputy chief Yeo Woon-guk admitted to the “amateurishness” of the new investigative agency. It has found little after much hype over the case for eight months. Although it ultimately targeted Yoon, it never got to question him.
Just because the case has ended up a much-ado-about-nothing, it does not offer political pardoning for the suspects. Sohn and Kim had acted irregularly in the process of handing over prosecutorial findings to the opposition lawmaker ahead of the April parliamentary election in 2020. Sohn could not have committed the act alone. Kim acted suspiciously by changing remarks many times.
The CIO’s findings underscore the key in our judiciary system. Investigations aim to verify wrongdoings as well as the truth. An investigative agency uses its vested power to find the pieces to the puzzle. It must not be swayed by political influence. But the CIO has failed.