Former police chief sentenced to prison for comments defaming Roh Moo-hyun

Posted on : 2013-02-21 15:39 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Cho Hyun-oh immediately taken into court custody after ruling on his statement concerning former president’s suicide

By Lee Kyung-mi, staff reporter

A former National Police Agency (NPA) chief who touched off a furor by claiming former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide over the discovery of large bank accounts he kept under assumed names has been taken into court custody for his comments.

Cho Hyun-oh, 58, was held criminally liable by the court for what it called an irresponsible remark by a public official.

Judge Lee Seong-ho, representing the 12th criminal division of Seoul Central District Court, sentenced Cho to 10 months in prison for defamation of a deceased individual. Cho was taken into court custody immediately after the ruling.

The remarks in question came during a talk to 460 task force commanders in March 2010, when Cho was head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

“Do you know why Roh Moo-hyun jumped?” he said at the time, referring to the former President’s suicide by jumping off a cliff. “An account had been found just the day before. A huge account under an assumed name, with a 100,000 won (US$92.65) bank check.”

Cho went on to claim that former First Lady Kwon Yang-sook blocked a special prosecutor’s investigation by talking to the Democratic Party (in an attempt to evade the investigation).

The remarks caused a huge stir when reported in the press at the time of Cho’s August 2010 nomination as NPA chief. The Roh Moo-hyun Foundation immediately lodged a complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, but it took until September 2012 - two years after the fact - for them to get around to arresting Cho.

The court ruled that Cho was incorrect in saying that Roh had accounts under an assumed name.

“Based on the investigation report and other evidence, the four bank accounts in the name of two Blue House administrative officers that the defendant was referring to had balances in the tens of millions of won [tens of thousands of US dollars], and the transaction records showed most of it to be used for the officers’ own purposes,” the judge said.

“Based on this, it is impossible to conclude that it was an assumed-name account belonging to Roh Moo-hyun.”

Cho has consistently maintained that his comments at the talk were based on investigation findings reported to him by an acquaintance who was a reliable source, although he did not give specifics. He also added fuel to the fire by saying he had heard “more details” from a source with the prosecutors the December after the reports on his remarks came out.

Lee spent more than 20 minutes explaining the reason for the sentence, rebuking the former NPA head and saying that such behavior from a public official constituted a more serious problem than the simple spreading of false information.

“The defendant was not simply an individual,” Lee said. “As the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, his comments had ‘force.’ With his false statement, the defendants created a sense of questioning and doubt among the public about what might or might not be true, and the result was tremendous divisions in public opinion.”

The judge went on to say that Cho had made baseless allegations while ignoring the fact that he was in a position of responsibility.

“Even afterwards, he continued to make exaggerated claims and irresponsible remarks,” the judge said. “That is worse than the spreading of false information.”

Lee also noted that Cho had never apologized directly to the victim or his family before the sentence.

“If his comments about accounts under a borrowed name were not false, then it is only proper to the public for a public official to disclose his basis” for making them, the judge added.

Lee also said he had considered Cho’s lack of a prior record and the fact that the remarks were made off the cuff, but decided not to recognize them as a basis for granting an exception to court custody rules. The defendant sat in the courtroom without any visible reaction before the judge read the sentence, after which he bowed his head.

Cho filed an appeal immediately after the ruling.


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