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[Editorial] Absurd bills for Lee

Majority opposition seeks to give suspects right to veto prosecutors probing their cases

Feb. 8, 2023 - 05:30 By Korea Herald

The Democratic Party of Korea is said to be preparing a horde of bills to pressure prosecutors and restrict their rights, as the prosecution is on the brink of indicting its leader, Lee Jae-myung, in connection with an array of alleged irregularities that transpired when he was the mayor of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, and the governor of Gyeonggi Province.

Lawmakers of the majority opposition party took to the streets last Saturday and condemned the "prosecutors' tyranny" -- an ill-founded slogan aimed at denouncing investigations into its leader. But it seems that the party is not completely satisfied with the street protests they staged for the first time in six years. Now they seek to further turn up the heat on the prosecution investigating Lee.

The changes the party plans to make in the criminal procedure act are aimed at giving suspects the right to demand the replacement of prosecutors assigned to their cases if they perceive their investigation to be unfair.

But investigations are unlikely to be considered fair or satisfactory by suspects, unless, of course, the assigned prosecutors intend to go easy on them.

The Democratic Party has so far argued that the prosecutors' investigation of the allegations against its leader is unfair because all of the senior prosecutors in the Seoul Central and Suwon District Prosecutors' Office in charge of the probes are loyal to President Yoon Suk Yeol.

It is almost certain that most suspects will utilize the proposed veto power as a means to drag their feet when they are investigated. The same goes for Lee.

The party also seeks to legislate the “Prosecutor Information Disclosure Act” to make it mandatory to reveal the names, assigned tasks and contact numbers of prosecutors.

In December last year, it distributed to its members and supporters the data on the real names, assigned districts and photographs of prosecutors who were investigating the allegations against Lee. This triggered online criticism and derision targeting the prosecutors.

The party faced criticism from inside its ranks, not to mention from most members of the public, but it vowed to institutionalize the disclosure of prosecutors’ identities. Now it is preparing to legislate.

It is also said to be considering legislation to enable defendants and defense attorneys to browse sufficiently the prosecution’s undisclosed key evidence before a pretrial detention hearing. It would be particularly important for Lee to know what key evidence the prosecution has against him as he is under investigation.

The party has argued that the prosecution tries to intervene into politics by leaking information on suspected crimes involving politicians to the news media. Now it is considering legally banning the prosecution from doing so.

If the ban is enacted, criminal suspects or defendants will be able to request that the court prohibit the prosecution from publicizing their suspected crimes. This is also closely associated with the investigation of Lee.

He was already questioned by the prosecution in connection with alleged illegal donations to the Seongnam Football Club, owned at the time by the city of Seongnam under Mayor Lee. Now he faces the possibility of additional summons over Seongnam’s alleged favors to Daejang-dong land and Wirye New Town developers. On top of these, he has come under suspicion that he might be involved in Ssangbangwool Group’s alleged illegal remittance of millions of dollars to North Korea.

His party seems to be trying to do whatever it can to save its leader from judicial punishment. The bills now under the party’s consideration are what Lee needs the most right now.

It is hard to imagine that the bills will become law. In the final stage, the president will likely veto them. Yet the party still seeks to legislate them in an apparent attempt to stifle the prosecution’s investigation and intimidate prosecutors.

The intent behind the bills are clear: to upset the criminal justice system once again in order to save Lee from judicial actions. It has already legislated bills to strip the prosecution of most of their investigative rights.

The party cites a suspects’ right to defense. One cannot help wondering why it did not legislate such good ideas when it was the ruling party. If their core intent is to block the indictment of its leader, it would cause less harm to the people to simply enact the exemption of a specific person from punishment, rather than to try and restructure the entire judicial system.