Disparate speeds of S. Korean prosecutors’ probes into ruling, opposition-tied figures raise questions of bias

Posted on : 2022-06-20 17:15 KST Modified on : 2022-06-20 17:15 KST
Probes into former administration officials appear to be moving along at a break-neck speed, while those into the current first lady and PPP officials are at a standstill
A person walks into the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. (Hankyoreh file photo)
A person walks into the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. (Hankyoreh file photo)

Investigations being carried out by the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office (SCDPO), the largest prosecutors’ office in South Korea, are seemingly progressing at disparate speeds depending on the political affiliation of who is being looked into, as if the clock dictating cases concerning the opposition is running at a faster pace.

The allegation that President Yoon Suk-yeol’s wife Kim Keon-hee was involved in the manipulation of Deutsch Motors stock prices, as well as the case concerning People Power Party lawmaker Kim Woong’s alleged violation of the Public Official Election Act, are “still being investigated” without much progress for reasons such as the prosecution service’s impending regular personnel reshuffle.

In contrast, when it comes to investigations into the opposition that involve Democratic Party officials or figures from the previous administration, it seems the prosecution is intent on digging up as much dirt as possible before the personnel reshuffle, as evidenced by the fact that a head investigator resigning has not stopped the prosecution from expanding its investigation into the opposition.

The second public investigation division of the SCDPO, which is investigating whether the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family under the Moon Jae-in administration assisted the Democratic Party in developing its presidential campaign platform, summoned key officials of the Democratic Party’s policy research committee on Friday and conducted a four-hour interrogation. Reportedly, prosecutors asked why the Democratic Party asked the Gender Equality and Family Ministry for campaign-related materials, and whether the party made similar requests of other government ministries as well.

Investigators in charge of the case also recently summoned and interrogated former Minister of Gender Equality and Family Chung Young-ai and former Gender Equality Vice Minister Kim Kyeong-seon. They have also set out to ascertain whether other ministries received official letters from the Democratic Party requesting material for use in developing the party’s presidential campaign platform.

When a regular reshuffle is imminent, prosecutors normally hold off on their investigations so that their successors can take over. Moreover, Kim Kyeong-geun, the head investigator for the Gender Equality Ministry case, has recently expressed his intent to resign. Still, under the leadership of chief prosecutor Song Gyeong-ho and third deputy chief prosecutor Park Ki-dong, both of whom were appointed by Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon, the SCDPO seems to be hastening its investigations into the previous administration.

On the other hand, the second anti-corruption investigation division of the SCDPO led by Jo Ju-yeon that’s handling the case of alleged manipulation of Deutsch Motors stock prices involving Kim Keon-hee has spent the last six months without even deciding whether the first lady will be indicted. The investigation team handed 14 main accomplices of the case including former Deutsch Motors chairman Kwon Oh-soo to court in December of last year, but it has been dallying when it comes to taking action on Kim Keon-hee.

Those within the prosecution service and elsewhere say that having kickstarted its crusade against the previous administration, the prosecution service is delaying taking action on Kim Keon-hee so as to avoid a backlash when her charges are ultimately dismissed.

Regarding the case, Han remarked at the National Assembly last month that “significant progress has already been made in the investigation.” A lawyer who previously served as a chief prosecutor commented, “Considering that many investigations against the opposition are ongoing, it might be burdensome for the prosecution to dismiss the charges faced by the president’s wife.”

The investigation into People Power Party lawmaker Kim Woong, who was indicted for election interference by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials and handed to the prosecution last month immediately before Yoon’s inauguration is also at a standstill at the first public investigation division of the SCDPO. The prosecution has said this is because of the impending regular reshuffle and chief prosecutor Choi Chang-min’s tendering of his resignation, but the second public investigation division, which is in a similar situation, is speeding up its investigation into the previous administration nevertheless.

Regarding this, the SCDPO’s press team said on Sunday that “it is inappropriate to compare two cases that are being investigated separately.”

By Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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