[Editorial] Prosecutors must reflect on impression aggressive investigations give public

Posted on : 2022-10-21 16:51 KST Modified on : 2022-10-21 16:51 KST
Democrats must also be forthright in the investigation into allegations of illicit campaign funds
Lawmakers belonging to the Democratic Party face off against officials with the prosecution service attempting to conduct a raid of the party’s headquarters on Oct. 19. (pool photo)
Lawmakers belonging to the Democratic Party face off against officials with the prosecution service attempting to conduct a raid of the party’s headquarters on Oct. 19. (pool photo)

South Korea’s public prosecutors announced once again on Thursday that they intend to search the headquarters of the opposition Democratic Party in connection with the Daejang neighborhood development scandal. While the Democratic Party agreed to resume the parliamentary audits it had suspended the previous day, it boycotted the audit of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office at the Legislation and Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

While we’ve dodged the worst-case scenario of a complete shutdown of the audits, the vacuum in politics continues as the government and the opposition party remain in a standoff. There are fears that the political chill will destabilize the public livelihood.

The primary responsibility for this incident lies with the prosecution service, whose rash behavior has kindled accusations of a politically motivated investigation.

Everyone would agree that there needs to be an exhaustive investigation into the allegations surrounding the Daejang development project. Accordingly, the prosecutors ought to conduct their investigation in a manner that won’t call their political neutrality and impartiality into question.

Not only are both the ruling and opposition parties implicated in this scandal, but there are serious concerns that President Yoon Suk-yeol — who used to serve as the country’s prosecutor general — will directly oversee the investigating prosecutors. That demands circumspection from the prosecutors to avoid the appearance of bias.

But the prosecutors have brought accusations of political motivations upon themselves, along with pushback from the opposition party, by taking the extreme and nearly unprecedented step of abruptly launching a raid on the headquarters of Korea’s largest opposition party in the middle of the parliamentary audits.

The Democratic Party even offered to voluntarily submit the documents the prosecutors were seeking, but that offer was summarily rejected.

There’s precedent for that offer: the prosecutors allowed Channel A to voluntarily submit certain evidence following a standoff with employees during an investigation into illicit ties between certain prosecutors and the media.

While nothing should be off limits in criminal investigations, law enforcement agencies need to be prudent in how they exercise their authority so as to avoid the appearance of political repression.

Another criticism is that since it’s still unclear whether Kim Yong received the funds for personal use or for the presidential campaign, the prosecutors shouldn’t be barging ahead on the assumption that this is a campaign funding case. For one thing, that narrative hasn’t been confirmed by the evidence, and for another, investigations shouldn’t be steered in a certain definition by assuming that the allegations are true.

On Wednesday, Yoon unexpectedly threw an ideological curveball into cooperation with the opposition party by fulminating that “cooperative governance with North Korea-following adherents of Juche Thought is impossible.” Then when reporters asked him on his way to work on Thursday whether the prosecutors’ investigation amounted to a crackdown on the opposition party, he said that “a media organization [Channel A] was raided for several days back when the opposition party was the ruling party.”

Setting aside the inaccuracy of Yoon’s statements, his inflammatory and aggressive stance toward the opposition party over the past several days would seem to serve little purpose but fomenting division.

The Democratic Party should also be aware that if it continues to physically block a search, even one that’s limited to Kim Yong’s office, it’s unlikely to earn the sympathy of most Koreans. It needs to ask hard questions in the parliamentary audits while working forthright with an investigation into allegations about whatever funds may have changed hands.

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

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