Seoul Education Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon filed an objection on Tuesday after the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials’ review committee decided Cho should face charges of abuse of power in connection with a hiring decision.
Cho’s legal representative, Lee Jae-hwa, filed the official request with the chief of the CIO on Tuesday, arguing that the previous day’s review committee meeting was biased and it should reconvene.
“(The review committee’s opinion) is invalid because it violated the right of the suspect and the lawyer to state their case,” Lee said in a press release.
“The indictment review committee only listened to the prosecutor’s one-sided facts and evidence and made a decision to file an indictment without hearing the explanation of facts and evidence that back up the suspect’s claim.”
The lawyer pointed out that the CIO’s senior prosecutor, Kim Seong-mun, had been allowed to attend Monday’s meeting and explain the prosecution’s case for about two hours. This biased the case against the Seoul education chief, Lee said.
“It is hard to accept the review committee’s decision because it only heard from the prosecutor’s one-sided opinion without guaranteeing the right of statement for the suspect’s lawyer,” Cho said Monday after the review committee’s opinion was made public.
A CIO official said all original statements submitted by Cho’s legal representatives had been provided to the committee and that the agency would consider the request to have it reconvene.
The CIO review committee consists of 11 lawyers and legal scholars appointed by the CIO chief. By law, the CIO should respect the committee’s opinion but does not have to follow its decisions.
The Seoul education chief is accused of abusing his power by pushing for a special hiring process for five teachers who had previously been fired after being convicted of violating the Public Official Election Act. Cho has repeatedly denied the allegations.
All eyes are on the case because this is the CIO’s first official investigation and the outcome could be a barometer of the anti-corruption agency’s competency. But the watchdog will face a bumpy road if it decides to pursue an indictment against Cho.
The CIO cannot directly file charges against the Seoul education chief because it has the authority to indict accused public officials only in certain posts, such as judges and prosecutors. It has the power to investigate presidents, lawmakers, mayors and superintendents, but only the prosecution has the authority to indict them.
The CIO could still decide to drop Cho’s case, or it could ask the prosecution to indict him. In that case the agency would hand over related documents and evidence to prosecutors, who would decide whether to indict the Seoul education chief.
Since the CIO took on the probe against Cho in April, it has raided the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and summoned Cho and other personnel.
The government launched the CIO in January to wipe out corruption among high-ranking public officials and their families.
By Kan Hyeong-woo (firstname.lastname@example.org