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Sun May 17, 2020, 01:26 AM

Politically motivated prosecutorial malfeaseance in South Korea

Last edited Sun May 17, 2020, 08:17 AM - Edit history (2)

The dam seems to be near the breaking point for Supreme Prosecutor Yoon Seok-yeol in South Korea. A series of events related to the lack of integrity and political corruption in the central prosecutor's office have cascaded into the public eye in recent days.

The latest episode triggered by a major revelation concerning a series of prosecutions against former politician Han Myung-sook, who was convicted on charges of violating election campaign fund laws by receiving 900,000,000 won, from business CEO, Han Man-ho. Star witness Han is now deceased and his daily memoir from a period of incarceration of about ten months, has been obtained by NewsTapa, an independent journalism center in South Korea. What the journal reveals, is that the prosecution of South Korea's former first female prime minister was a fraud upon the court, obtained by the prosecution by threatening witnesses, soliciting perjury and withholding evidence from the court and defendant.

In the first trial of the second prosecution, Assemblywoman Han Myung-sook was found not guilty. She was found guilty at a second hearing, in a higher court, which was then affirmed at the Supreme Court level. In a previous prosecution for allegedly receiving a 50 thousand dollar bribe, she was found innocent, 1,2,3, times at all stages of litigation. Then the prosecution moved on to the second series of trial actions. Earlier in her political career, she had been charged with being a communist and imprisoned. She was later exonerated and continued a successful career in the National Assembly, becoming Prime Minister during the No Mu-hyun administration. She left that position to run for the presidency, but lost, and returned to the National Assembly. When she was found guilty in 2015 of campaign law violations, she lost her seat in the National Assembly and was imprisoned for two years. She was released from prison in August 2017. Democrats turned out in numbers to welcome her release. Now they have the satisfaction of knowing what they had maintained all along, she was subject of a right wing plot, including the prosecutor's office to frame her for something she didn't do.

The exposure of this gross abuse of power by the prior conservative administration and the unethical and criminal role of the prosecutor's office follows shortly upon the scandal surrounding Channel A's alleged role in soliciting perjury, and fraud on the court system, against long time government critic Yoo Shi-min, director of the No Moo-hyun foundation. Yoo is a major critic of the politicization of justice in South Korea, and an outspoken critic of Yoon Seok-yeol. Not surprisingly director Yoo was targeted, allegedly by Channel A, in a conspiracy with the central prosecutor's office, to solicit perjury, to support a press campaign to promote the prosecution of false accusations against Yoo. It is ironic that the No Mu-hyun Foundation director should be the target, as the former President of South Korea, No Moo-hyun, was the victim of a rabid press and prosecution campaign that targeted his family, in a manner very similar to the current prosecution of former Justice Minister Cho Guk and his family.

The timing could not be worse, as the case against the former Justice Minister Cho Guk, and his wife, college professor, Chung Kyung-shim, is foundering according to reports from independent journalists favoring the democratic administration's prosecutorial reform measures. On May 11, Chung was released after six months of pre-trial confinement. The prosecution tried to justify extending pre-trial confinement for the college professor for another six months. This on the putative basis that she might destroy evidence, flee the jurisdiction, or otherwise delay or obstruct the trial process. The judge denied the motion, finding none of the contentions credible. After six months of confinement, and issuing warrants to search literally more than a hundred locations in an effort to find something to convict Cho Guk and his wife, the cases against both of them appear to be less than convincing. Remarkably, the prosecutor in charge of the field team for the prosecution executing the extensive search warrants in the case, resigned last week. Prosecutor, Lee Gwang-suk, alleged to be Yoon Seok-yeol's proxy, allegedly resigned for personal reasons. Perhaps he can see the handwriting on the wall.

The case against Cho-guk's wife was brought out of order without the standard initial investigation by subpoena phase. The prosecution had two purposes to obstruct the prosecution reform effort headed by Cho Guk, and to create an aura of administration hypocrisy and scandal before the general elections on April 15. The haste in bringing the prosecutions was politically motivated. The prosecution went right to an indictment against Cho's wife with a less than one page charge sheet, that being inadequately supported, was amended without leave of court. Reportedly, the court took an unfavorable view of these unorthodox tactics which placed the prosecution in the position of claiming they may need another six months to pursue the case.

Critics are also perplexed as to why the valuable time of the court and extensive prosecution resources are being wasted on accusations of an improper college entrance process years ago for Cho Guk's daughter, which has in essence, failed of proof in the courtroom. One witness said he was subject to coercion by the prosecution and signed an untrue statement just to end his inquisition by the prosecutors. Although at risk, he felt obliged to tell the truth in court. Other witnesses including government and school officials, testified to the effect that the awards and certificates presented by Cho Guk's daughter were not forgeries and were supported by the facts.

The prosecution case against Professor Chung, will live or die based on the evidence concerning alleged financial and securities violations involving a family investment in a private fund she was induced to make by Cho Guk's cousin's son, a distant relative, also named Cho, who had written two books on stock market investing. The details are somewhat convoluted, but the role of Cho's relative appears to be similar to that of imprisoned investment advisor Lee Cheol in the right wing scheme targeting Director Yoo. In other words, a former motor parts company salesmen cum investment adviser, being pressured by the prosecutors to implicate Cho Guk's wife, and by implication Cho in financial and ethical regulation violations, self dealing, etc. Other major investors involved in the scheme seem to have disappeared from the scene without a trace, according to leg work done earlier by an investigative reporter. It remains to be seen how this will turn out at trial.

The case against Cho Guk himself for alleged abuse of power by interfering in a prosecution against democratic government bfficials allegedly violating finance laws is also faltering. Unlike his wife's ordeal, the former Blue House Secretary, and Minister of Justice was never jailed pending investigation. A key witness in the prosecution was the Blue House Secretary for Public Official Discipline, Park Hyung-cheol. One observer claimed Park had betrayed Cho as Yoon's source inside the Blue House, alleging Cho was using his influence to save democrats being investigated in a southern jurisdiction of South Korea. As it turns out Secretary Park Hyung-chol's testimony at trial wasn't decisive. In essence, the derelictions in fiscal discipline under prosecutorial investigation, were diverted to an administrative remedy in a joint decision, which included Park, and in addition to Cho Guk, the Blue House Secretary for Civil Affairs, Baik Won-yoo. This development led some to speculate, that the Supreme Prosecutor's prior lock on judicial process was failing, and that Secretary Park was seeking to distance himself from Yoon's modus operandi as the political tide changed. It's a confusing situation that doesn't lend itself to clear indications of guilt or abuse of power. Cho maintained at an Assembly committee hearing last year, that the evidence of guilt in the financial commission cases, was weak. Apparently, Park agreed. Baik maintained that the southern prosecutor's office had not agreed to stop the cases, and without that the civil affairs "committee" of the Blue House, including Baik, Cho, and Park, had no power of oversight.

Analysts speculated that Yoon's right hand man doing the field work in the Cho Guk cases, prosecutor Lee Gwang-seok, also wishes to bail out of a sinking ship. While the Supreme Prosecutor has demonstrated himself to be a master of intrigue, perhaps more adept than his prior sponsors from the conservative Liberty Korea Party, his days may be numbered as his critics maintain. It is possible the trials and litigation could be dragged on indefinitely as claimed. A do over of the repeated prosecutions as in trials of former Prime Minister Han Myong-sook is unlikely in the current reform minded climate. The politically motivated litigation is no longer a secret that can be concealed from the South Korean public. The ongoing scandals around Yoon, official and private, likely played a role in the Democratic Party landslide April 15. All attends the convening and agenda of the Public Official Corruption Committee enacted by the 20th National Assembly to rectify the corruption in the prosecutor's offices. Prosecutor Lee's resignation, as well as the potential resignation of Yoon Seok-yeol, would not affect the corruption committee's jurisdiction over either according to one report. Would President Moon allow Yoon to escape this situation in which his options are slowing being foreclosed?

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