[Editorial] Wrong heyday

By Korea Herald

Prosecution flexes muscles in politically-charged cases

Published : Nov 19, 2017 - 17:41
Updated : Nov 19, 2017 - 17:41

One big piece of news after another keeps coming from the state prosecution as it conducts a number of high-profile, politically sensitive investigations.

It is not rare for the prosecution to be full of activity in the first year of a new government as it usually takes charge of anticorruption campaigns or other politically delicate investigations -- mostly in conjunction with the new occupants of Cheong Wa Dae.

But what the prosecution has been doing since President Moon Jae-in took office in May goes beyond the traditional norm. Put simply, the prosecution is wielding its investigative power more indiscriminately and relentlessly than ever.

In part, the disgraceful fall of ousted President Park Geun-hye laid the ground for the Moon government and the prosecution to dig into what is called “long-accumulated wrongs” of the unpopular past governments.

Nevertheless, the scope and intensity of the ongoing investigations are indeed frightening. So many of those who served in the Lee and Park administrations are being put into jail that few can deny the accusation that the government is persecuting former officials in a political vendetta.

The National Intelligence Service, the top spy agency that had been created by Park’s father after he seized power in a coup in 1961, is bearing the brunt of the Moon government’s harsh drive to “liquidate the accumulated wrongs.”

Three of its four most recent chiefs who served in the Lee and Park administrations are in custody on charges ranging from interfering in domestic politics to providing secret NIS funds to presidential aides and other senior government officials.

Former Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin who served both the Lee and Park governments and several other former senior military officials are also in detention for involvement in the operation of the cyber warfare unit suspected of having engaged in illegal political activities.

Prosecutors appointed by Moon to take charge of the investigation into the past activities of the NIS are not sparing even their own colleagues. Two senior prosecutors were detained -- the third killed himself after the prosecution sought a warrant to detain him -- for their work when they served a stint in the NIS.

While these and other cases attest to the massiveness and ruthlessness of the current campaign, the prosecution is apparently expanding its battlefronts -- toward politicians.

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan, a fourth-term lawmaker loyal to Park, is one of the closest targets. Prosecutors say that they obtained testimony that Choi received 100 million won ($91,000) from the NIS when he was the deputy prime minister. Choi is not the only politician implicated in the NIS fund scandal. There are reports that at least five more lawmakers, from both ruling and opposition parties, received the NIS money.

The prosecution is also closing in on another opposition politician, Won Yoo-chul, a fifth-term lawmaker who was the Liberty Korea Party’s floor leader. He is suspected of taking illegal political funds.

Then there is the case of Jun Byung-hun, who resigned as Moon’s top political aide over allegations that he was involved in a kickback scandal. He will face questioning by prosecutors Monday.

Political motives must be behind all this breathtaking, stormy wave of investigations. As a matter of fact, both the cases of Jun and Won are nothing new, as there had already been allegations of corruption surrounding them.

There is some ground to the argument that Jun has become a sort of scapegoat for the Moon government’s purge of opposition members and former senior officials of the Lee and Park administrations.

There is also speculation that the prosecution -- while upholding the new government’s campaign to redress past wrongs -- is trying to flex its muscles and tame politicians ahead of the parliamentary discussions on measures to weaken the power of the state prosecution. That, however, may draw backlash as some opposition lawmakers argue that the recent cases compel them to rein in the all-powerful prosecution.

All in all, the latest developments show that it still is a distant dream to have a genuinely independent, politically neutral prosecution in the country.

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation