A Seoul court dismissed the arrest warrant for Woo Byung-woo, a former presidential secretary for civil affairs, on Wednesday over a corruption scandal that led to ousted President Park Geun-hye's removal from power.
"It is hard to acknowledge the reason and necessity to take him into custody," said Judge Kwon Soon-ho from the Central District Court.
|Woo Byung-woo (Yonhap)|
Both the prosecution and independent counsel failed to arrest Woo, who had been picked as one of the key suspects behind the corruption scandal involving ex-President Park and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil.
He has faced a total of eight charges including abuse of authority for allegedly peddling influence in the government to sack officials uncooperative with irregularities committed by Park and Choi. He is also charged with negligence of duty.
The eight charges also include perjury, as the prosecution suspects Woo lied under oath at a parliamentary inquiry into the corruption scandal in December. Allegations of embezzlement and disruption of a probe into the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry are not included.
In February, special counsel Park Young-soo, whose 70-day investigation ended on Feb. 28, sought to arrest Woo, but the court rejected his request for a writ. The court said the charges against Woo were “debatable” and were not sufficiently “clarified.”
|Woo Byung-woo (Yonhap)|
Woo has maintained that he had not been aware of Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend of former President Park, and Choi's alleged meddling in state affairs.
The prosecution said it had questioned about 50 people as witnesses as part of the probe into Woo. Among them were state prosecutors who took the lead in investigating the maritime police for the botched rescue operation during the Sewol disaster and Choo Myeong-ho, ex-chief of the nation’s spy agency.
Despite his apparent failure to perform his duty to stop corruption in the civil service, Woo has so far avoided being arrested and indicted. A number of ex-ministers, presidential aides and Samsung Group’s de facto chief Lee Jae-yong are standing trial in connection to the corruption scandal.
Choi’s manipulation of power behind the scenes as well as the Park administration’s failure to rescue some 300 lives during the Sewol ferry disaster are major reasons the parliament voted to impeach her on Dec. 9.
Park was arrested on March 31 and is being questioned in jail. She was forced out of office on March 10, which stripped her of presidential immunity to criminal investigation. She is suspected of extorting donations from local firms to help Choi’s business interests.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)