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[Newsmaker] Chief justice apologizes for corruption scandal

Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae on Tuesday offered a public apology over an incumbent senior judge who was arrested last week on suspicions of taking bribes from a scandal-ridden businessman.

“I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologize on behalf of the judiciary for causing concern to the people. I promise to take stern measures following what comes to light,” Yang said during an opening speech at an emergency meeting of local court chiefs.
Yang Sung-tae, chief justice of the Supreme Court, leaves an emergency meeting Tuesday after delivering an apology over the recent series of corruption scandals involving senior judicial officials. Yonhap
Yang Sung-tae, chief justice of the Supreme Court, leaves an emergency meeting Tuesday after delivering an apology over the recent series of corruption scandals involving senior judicial officials. Yonhap

The apology came four days after the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office arrested Kim Soo-cheon, a 56-year-old judge of the Incheon District Court, on charges of receiving some 170 million won ($152,000) in kickbacks from Jung Woon-ho, the former CEO of local cosmetic firm Nature Republic.

In return for the bribes, Jung allegedly asked the judge to hand down a heavy sentence to cosmetics-makers who manufactured and sold fake products of Nature Republic in the market.

Ahead of the meeting aimed at addressing the corruption cases, Yang claimed that all members of the judicature should bear due responsibility.

“The corruption case should not be seen as an individual judge’s deviant behavior. The fact that this wrongdoing took place within the justice system is reason enough for our apology,” he said. “All judges share an indefinite level of mutual responsibility in terms of work ethics.”

In his 10-minute solemn speech, Yang underscored the importance of “integrity” and “trust” in the judiciary.

“The wrongdoing of a judge poses a threat to the whole justice system and damages our pride and confidence,” Yang said. “Judges, who have strived to walk down the honorable path, are in panic, as their morality is being doubted, but those more hurt and disappointed are the public who trusted and supported the judiciary.”

During the meeting, chiefs of local courts discussed how to improve ethics standards and to strengthen the internal inspection of judges involved in bribery allegations.

Yang is the third chief justice in the nation’s judicial history to issue a public apology over corruption scandals involving judges.

The first such apology from a chief justice came in 1995 when 10 court officials in charge of auctions at Incheon District Court were indicted on suspicions of embezzling a massive amount of money. Chief Justice Yoon Kwan at the time had apologized following the incident.

In 2006, then-Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon made an apology after Cho Kwan-haeng, a former senior judge of the Seoul High Court, was arrested on charges of receiving cash and gifts worth 100 million won from a broker. The ex-judge was sentenced to 10 months in jail in 2008, suspended for two years.

The allegation involving Kim is the latest in a series of corruption scandals involving former and incumbent legal professionals, which has dealt a blow to the reputation of the nation’s justice system.

The judge-turned-lawyer Choi You-jeong is currently standing trial on suspicions of taking advantage of her status as a former judge to seek a favorable ruling for the ex-chief of Nature Republic. In return, she allegedly received 5 billion won in attorney fees. 

In January last year, Choi Min-ho, who was a judge then, was arrested for allegedly taking hundreds of millions of won worth of kickbacks from a private moneylender. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Later in the day, Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam ordered a thorough investigation into corruption allegations involving a senior incumbent prosecutor and pledged stern action against “those who commit wrongdoing.”

Suspicions surfaced Monday that the prosecutor Kim Hung-joon had taken a total of 15 million won in bribes from a businessman. In return, Kim allegedly pulled strings for the businessman to have the alleged embezzlement and fraud case dismissed.

Kim denied all the accusations, while the businessman claimed that he served as a “financial sponsor” for the prosecutor. 

By Ock Hyun-ju (