Son Jun-sung heads into the Seoul Central District Court on Jan. 31 for sentencing in his trial on charges of manufacturing criminal complaints aimed at politicians. (Yonhap)
A South Korean court handed a one-year sentence to a senior prosecutor implicated in a scheme to encourage an opposition politician to file criminal complaints against figures in the then-ruling party. The plot within the prosecution service was allegedly aimed to sway public opinion against the ruling party in the 2020 general election, in violation of prosecutors’ duty to maintain political neutrality.
The district court’s ruling against Son Jun-sung, a deputy chief prosecutor at the Daegu High Prosecutors’ Office, confirms most of the allegations in the political meddling scandal. That’s likely to have major repercussions considering that President Yoon Suk-yeol was prosecutor general at the time.
A criminal division at the Seoul Central District Court convicted Son on charges of leaking official secrets and violating the Personal Information Protection Act and the Criminal Justice Procedure Digitalization Promotion Act and handed him a one-year prison sentence. However, Son was acquitted on the charge of violating the Public Official Election Act and certain charges related to leaking official secrets.
The verdict came one year and nine months after Korea’s Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials indicted Son in May 2022. Son was not detained during his trial on the grounds that he did not pose a flight risk.
Son had been charged with drafting criminal complaints against figures associated with the then ruling Democratic Party and delivering them to Kim Woong (then a candidate for a National Assembly seat with the United Future Party, forerunner of today’s ruling People Power Party) in April 2020. Son then arranged for Kim and the United Future Party to file those complaints with law enforcement with the goal of influencing that year’s general election. Son had been working as an investigative information policy officer at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office at the time.
The criminal complaints that were sent to Kim over Telegram, an instant messaging service, were marked as being “from Son Jun-sung.” Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife were listed as victims of defamation on the complaints along with Han Dong-hoon, who was then the deputy chief prosecutor at the Busan High Prosecutors’ Office. Han is currently the interim leader of the People Power Party.
Son was also accused of giving Kim the criminal records and unredacted judicial decisions for an individual surnamed Ji who had given the authorities information about the Channel A scandal.
The court accepted the prosecution’s argument that Son had composed and delivered the criminal complaints.
“It is acknowledged that the defendant was involved in producing and collecting the investigative information that served as the basis of the criminal complaints, as well as in composing and reviewing those complaints, while serving as an investigative information policy officer at the Supreme Prosecutors Office. Considering that the criminal complaints targeted figures in the ruling party who had been attacking the prosecution service, the defendant also had a motive for arranging for the submission of those criminal complaints,” the court said.
The court also agreed that Son had intended to sway the election.
“One of the most important things our country demands of its prosecutors is their political neutrality. Since [the defendant] was attempting to influence the election or aid such an attempt, this is a grave matter that bears serious criminal liability,” the court said.
Nevertheless, the court acquitted Son on the charge of violating the Public Officials Election Act on technical grounds, concluding that there was little chance, objectively speaking, that composing and delivering the criminal complaints would have impacted the election outcome by itself.
Son told reporters after the verdict was read that he intended to appeal. “Both the facts of the case and the legal judgment are unacceptable,” he said.
By Jeon Gwang-joon, staff reporter
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