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[Editorial] Justice system in crisis

Corruption jeopardizes rule of law

Sept. 2, 2016 - 18:27 By 조혜림
The public’s confidence in the nation’s justice system was further eroded Thursday when an incumbent senior judge was arrested over allegations he received bribes from a disgraced businessman.

Kim Su-cheon, a judge of the Incheon District Court, is suspected of having received 170 million won ($152,000) from Jung Woon-ho, the former head of cosmetics company Nature Republic who is serving time for illegal gambling overseas.

Kim is alleged to have acquired an imported vehicle from Jung at a giveaway price and made a golf trip to Vietnam with him. Kim’s daughter was also found to have won the top spot in a beauty pageant organized by Nature Republic.

Kim claims there was no reciprocity involved in his ties with Jung, but he is claimed to have ruled in favor of Nature Republic in trials between September and November last year. 

The senior judge’s arrest on corruption charges is deeply lamentable as it fuels the public’s growing distrust of the judiciary, which threatens the rule of law.

People’s confidence in the justice system has been shaken by a recent series of corruption scandals involving prosecutors and lawyers.

For instance, Jin Kyung-joon, a vice ministerial-level prosecutor, was indicted in July for allegedly receiving about 920 million won in kickbacks from Kim Jung-ju, the founder and chairman of Nexon Corp., Korea’s leading online game developer.

Jin was later dismissed by the Justice Ministry, becoming the first incumbent senior prosecutor to be sacked for corruption in the prosecution’s 68-year history.

Prior to Jin, Hong Man-pyo, a prominent lawyer who made his name as a prosecutor, was indicted for receiving some 300 million won from Jung to cover up his gambling charges. He was suspected of having unlawfully contacted his former colleagues to advocate for his client.

Hong was also accused of evading some 1.5 billion won in taxes between 2011 and 2015 by working for clients without filing the documents informing that he was appointed as counsel.

Before Hong, Choi Yoo-jeong, a judge-turned lawyer, was indicted in May on charges of receiving some 5 billion won from Jung. Like Hong, she was alleged to have used her personal relationships with incumbent judges to help him be released on bail or given a suspended jail term for his charges.
These cases illustrate that corruption is rampant among judges, prosecutors and lawyers -- the three pillars of the justice system. They show that lawyers who previously worked as judges and prosecutors make money by illegally peddling their influence on their former colleagues.

This corrupt practice fans public distrust of court rulings and prosecution investigations, ultimately shaking the foundations of the justice system.

In this regard, concerted efforts should be made to wipe out corruption among judges, prosecutors and lawyers. In June, the Supreme Court unveiled a set of measures to clean up corruption among judges. But as they have been proven to be ineffective, the court needs to come up with stronger measures.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office also announced measures Wednesday to root out corruption among prosecutors. The key proposal was to step up oversight of senior prosecutors. Yet this can hardly be a fundamental solution to the problem.

It is time for experts from the government, judiciary and legislature to push for comprehensive reform to prevent corruption among judges, prosecutors and lawyers and solidify the foundations for the nation’s justice system and the rule of law.