Conduct of trial of Cho’s spouse is scrutinized

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Conduct of trial of Cho’s spouse is scrutinized

Prosecutors are challenging the impartiality of a judge presiding over the trial of Chung Kyung-sim, the wife of scandal-plagued former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.

The JoongAng Ilbo learned Friday that the Seoul Central District Court has failed to accurately record prosecutors’ arguments made during a session of Chung’s trial on Dec. 10. At the time, prosecutors complained to Judge Song In-gwon for 10 minutes after he rejected their request to revise indictments against Chung. The court’s official record of the session, however, said, “The prosecution said it has no special opinion.”

Prosecutors from the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office asked Judge Song to change some specifics in their indictment of Chung. The prosecutors said they had been in a hurry to file the indictment against Chung.

Chung, a professor at Dongyang University, was first indicted on Sept. 6 for allegedly creating a Dongyang University presidential award for her daughter - without the knowledge of the president of the university - and secretly placing the president’s seal on the award.

Prosecutors normally indict a suspect after they’ve been questioned, but Chung was indicted that night without any questioning because the statute of limitations for her charge was about to expire the very next day, Sept. 7.

In the following weeks, prosecutors managed to detain Chung and question her multiple times, which led to their determination last month to indict her on 14 more charges, including obstruction of business, fraud, embezzlement and instigation of tampering, hiding and destroying evidence.

After the follow-up questioning, the prosecution attempted to revise their Sept. 6 indictment of Chung for forgery. They wanted to change the date, location and method of the alleged forgery, but the court refused the request. “If the prosecution was to change just one aspect, I would allow it,” Judge Song said on Dec. 10. “But they are trying to change five key factors.”

Prosecutors strongly protested the decision. “The court’s decision is unfair,” a prosecutor said. “We will review the rejection closely and ask again.”

As the prosecution continued its protest, Judge Song raised his voice in anger. “If you continue, I can remove you from the courtroom,” he said. “My judgment may be wrong. You can appeal after the sentencing.”

The court, however, recorded in the official minutes of the session that the prosecution presented “no special opinion” on the matter.

“This is a serious issue,” a prosecutor-turned-lawyer told the JoongAng Ilbo on Friday. “Civic groups could file a petition to accuse the court of tampering with an official document [the minutes].”

After learning about the inaccuracy, the prosecution raised the issue at a session on Thursday. Judge Song, however, shut down the complaint by saying, “Not everything can be included in the court record.”

Towards the end of the session, Song made a concession. “We will use the opportunity to look back on the court’s impartiality,” Song said. “And we will make a correction on the part that the prosecution had protested.”

The prosecution responded to the matter aggressively because it thinks the court has been running the trial unfairly.

Prosecutors said Chung’s lawyers were given ample time for defense, while their objections were repeatedly shut down. “Why don’t you listen to the prosecution’s opinion? This trial is being operated in an unprecedented way,” a prosecutor argued to the judge during Thursday’s session.

Law experts expressed concerns about the way Chung’s trial was being operated. “As long as basic facts remain unchanged, the court should allow the prosecution to revise the indictment,” said Lee Choong-sang, professor of law at Kyungpook National University. “It could be possible for the prosecution to file a motion to recuse the judge for the first time in history.”

A judge-turned-lawyer also said Chung’s trial is an “uneven playing field” for the prosecution.

Some, however, said the judge has the authority to operate a trial. “It is general knowledge that prosecutors must obey the control of judges in a trial,” said a law expert. “If they want to challenge the rejection to revise the indictment, it can just take legal procedures to do so.”

BY KANG KWANG-WOO, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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