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Top prosecutor apologizes for prosecution’s past misdeeds

Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il on Tuesday apologized for the prosecution’s past abuses of power and human rights violations in connection with politically sensitive investigations, vowing to make the law enforcement body transparent and politically neutral.
Moon Moo-il (Yonhap)
Moon Moo-il (Yonhap)

In a news conference, Moon said he “repents” the prosecution’s past failures to do its duty to protect people’s basic rights and fairly exercise its investigative powers.

Moon admitted that the prosecution had blocked attempts to uncover cases which involved human rights violations and had failed to filter out fabricated evidence and false testimony -- often the result of torture by the state authorities.

“Taking the past wrongdoings as a lesson, the prosecution will improve the institutions and procedures to prevent itself from abusing its power and to make sure its political neutrality and fairness in investigation are not violated,” Moon said, pledging measures to prevent any recurrence.

The apology came after the Special Committee on Past Wrongdoings by the Prosecution announced the results of its own investigation into the prosecution’s controversial investigations in the past.

The special committee, established under the Ministry of Justice in December 2017, reviewed 17 cases, including the human rights abuses at Busan’s Brothers Welfare Center in 1986, the torture of pro-democracy activist Kim Geun-tae in 1985, events surrounding actress Jang Ja-yeon’s suicide in 2009 and the Yongsan disaster of 2009, in which a fire claimed the lives of five tenants and one police officer clashing at a building in an area marked for redevelopment. It also looked into the suspected illegal surveillance of civilians by Cheong Wa Dae and the Prime Minister’s Office in 2010, as well as a sex-for-bribery scandal involving former Vice Minister Kim Hak-eui in 2013.

Wrapping up its activities, the committee concluded that some eight cases had either been poorly investigated or had involved human rights violations in the course of the investigation. It recommended that the prosecution offer a sincere apology and come up with measures to prevent the recurrence of such wrongdoings.

Moon, who took office as the top prosecutor in July 2017 is set to step down next month, had already apologized for the prosecution’s past wrongdoings. He was the first incumbent chief prosecutor to do so.

The prosecution has been criticized for aligning itself with authoritarian governments for decades until the 1980s and falsely accusing pro-democracy activists and political dissenters, leading to wrongful convictions and retrials.

Moon’s apology is in line with the prosecution’s efforts to reform itself to become more transparent and independent from political influence. The prosecution has been accused of being politically motivated and holding too much power, considering that it has the exclusive authority to indict criminal suspects.

Prosecution reform is one of President Moon Jae-in’s major election promises.