[Editorial] Half success

By Korea Herald

Special prosecutor closes investigation, core mission unfinished

  • Published : Feb 28, 2017 - 17:43
  • Updated : Feb 28, 2017 - 17:43
The team of independent counsel Park Young-soo on Tuesday ended its investigation into the influence-peddling scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil, as acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn rejected his request for extending the probe.

The closure of the special investigation, however, does not mean the end of legal proceedings and political disputes over the alleged wrongdoings committed by the president. Opposition parties are already moving to impeach Hwang and legislate another special act to continue the investigation into Park and Choi.

It has yet to be seen how the opposition offensive will play out eventually, but that should not interfere with the objective assessment of the special prosecutor team’s work for the past 90 days.

To be fair, the team’s work was no more than a half success. The biggest factor for failing to gain a better grade is its failure to personally question Park and search the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.

Of course, the biggest responsibility for the abortion of the plans to interrogate the president and search Cheong Wa Dae rests with Park herself. Park, who had already reneged on her promise to undergo face-to-face questioning by the state prosecution, again ignored her promise -- which she made in a nationally televised address -- to submit herself to interrogation by the special prosecutor.

Also frustrating was to see the special prosecutor team fail to search the offices of Park and her aides in Cheong Wa Dae. Blocked by officials citing relevant laws that safeguard the presidential office, the team sought a court injunction, but to no avail.

The team’s failure should serve as another reminder that the laws overly protect the presidential office and the Constitution that gives the president excessive immunity from criminal charges must be revised.

The independent counsel team’s investigation into Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of Samsung Group, also gives us some pause for thought. Indeed, no one should be above the law and there should be no exception even for the leader of the nation’s biggest conglomerate. Moreover, corroborating the evidence that the money Samsung gave to Choi’s side was kickbacks could make it easier to verify bribery charges against Park.

But the team was too obsessed with taking Lee into custody -- it obtained a court warrant on a second attempt -- as if jailing him or not would determine the overall success or failure of its investigation. The allegations against Lee and Samsung are not small ones, but the team used too much of its time and energy to lock him up.

The independent counsel team succeeded in shedding some light on the Park administration’s use of a blacklist to discriminate against artists and cultural figures who it thought were critical of the government or sympathetic to progressives or opposition members. It led to the arrest of Park’s former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and former Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun.

What the team uncovered in the investigation of the illegal admission of Chung Yoo-ra, Choi’s daughter, into Ewha Womans University also should not be overlooked. It resulted in the arrest of five faculty members, including its former president.

Notwithstanding these and other accomplishments, one cannot but feel regret that the special prosecutor failed to get its core job -- disclosing specific wrongdoings the president committed -- done.

Pending the opposition’s move to appoint another special prosecutor, the state prosecution will take over the investigation. But the future of the investigation -- be it by state prosecutors or a new independent counsel -- will be largely swayed by the impending Constitutional Court’s decision on the parliamentary impeachment of Park.

If the court upholds impeachment, Park will be stripped of Constitutional protection and will certainly face further investigation and punishment. If the court makes the opposite decision, it would be realistically impossible to continue to pursue legal action against her.

This means everyone may well await the top court’s decision, which is expected in about 10 days, before fighting over the appointment of a second independent counsel, which would certainly add to the already intensifying disputes between Park’s supporters and critics.