The prosecution, which is investigating an alleged contract killing, is putting the final touches on its preparations for prosecution, as the court-sanctioned detention of the suspects comes to an end. Yet, the prosecution cannot afford to wind down its inquiry, as the case is now developing into a big bribery scandal.
The case involves a Seoul councilman suspected of hiring a man in the March killing of a businessman in Seoul. It also involves a prosecutor, police officers and politicians, all of whom are suspected of taking bribes from the businessman.
The bribery scandal is undoubtedly embarrassing to the prosecution and the police agency. Still, the actions the two law-enforcement agencies have taken to protect themselves from a spillover are beyond comprehension.
At the start of the investigation, the police agency obtained books in which the businessman had kept his monetary transactions. They included payments to former and incumbent lawmakers, a prosecutor and five police officers.
It returned the books to the late businessman’s family after photocopying them, and handed over the outcome of its investigation to the prosecution.
But it committed a grave wrongdoing when it did not report that it had copies of the books. Nor did it initiate an inquiry into the alleged bribe-taking by the police officers. These omissions, which can in no way be excused, were seen to be no more than an attempt to protect the police officers suspected of taking bribes.
The prosecution did little better when suspicions were raised that the prosecutor took tens of millions of won in bribes. It said the money allegedly taken by the prosecutor amounted to 2 million won ($1,940). But it altered the amount to 3 million won and finally acknowledged the sum of 17.8 million won.
Then it said it found no evidence that the prosecutor promised a favor in return, in an apparent attempt to prevent him from being prosecuted. This suspicion is warranted, given that powerful figures often offer no favor after taking money in an attempt to make use of a loophole in the Korean criminal code. The act of taking money without promising a favor in return does not constitute a prosecutable offense, though it can result in a fine.
Now, the prosecution and the police agency are accusing each other of attempting to protect the suspect prosecutor and police officers. Such acrimony is rare between the prosecution, which has the ultimate control over all criminal investigations, and the police agency, which is demanding greater leeway in its criminal inquiries.
Under these circumstances, no one can be blamed for wondering aloud what the two law-enforcement agencies are pursuing in expanding their inquiries into the contract killing case: criminal justice or self-protection.
Against this backdrop, a National Assembly-appointed independent counsel should conduct an unbiased investigation into the bribery scandal and prosecute all of those found to have taken bribes.
If it wishes to help establish criminal justice, the legislature will also have to pass the Kim Young-ran bill as soon as possible. The passage of the bill, submitted a year ago to plug the loophole in the criminal code, is long overdue.