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[Editorial] Pressure on investigations

Justice minister gives de facto guidelines on probes of allegations involving Yoon’s wife

In connection with the prosecution’s probe of Kim Kun-hee, the wife of the opposition People Power Party’ presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said the prosecution must “draw a conclusion suitable to popular suspicions.”

Park made the remark in an interview with KBS on Sunday. He also said that she was allegedly the financier of a stock price manipulation scheme and that a sizable sum of her money was involved.

For more than a year, the prosecution has investigated suspicions that Kim was involved in the alleged manipulation of stock prices of Deutsch Motors, a BMW car dealer in Korea.

However, Kim Kun-hee is not mentioned at all in the indictments against Kwon Oh-soo, the chairman of Deutsch Motors, and his accomplices.

Though the prosecution could not secure testimonies or data showing her involvement in the stock price manipulation, Park was effectively pressuring them.

Park argued in a press briefing on Wednesday that his words are not a “guideline” on investigation, but it is hard to avoid criticism that he apparently tried to interfere in the presidential election.

He also said that certain media reported as if the prosecution decided to drop their case against Kim but that as far as he knows, the investigation is still ongoing.

This sounds like a guideline, too, that the prosecution must keep on investigating.

In the KBS interview, Park touched on the prosecution’s partial dismissal of allegations that an exhibition planning agency operated by Kim received sponsorship from large companies in a dubious fashion. The Justice Minister said the case was dropped because prosecutors failed to gather a sufficient amount of evidence under the pressure of the statute of limitations.

This remark gives the impression that the prosecution had cleared her of the allegations though suspicions still remain unverified.

However, regarding ongoing investigations into the Daejang-dong land development project scandal, Park showed a completely different attitude. He said that the case is divided into two parts -- suspicions of preferential treatment given to a few speculators in the process of designing the project and suspicions of bribery that happened around 2015. He also said the part on preferential treatment had ended, as indictments had been made against several main suspects.

Park pressured the prosecution with another guideline, too. He effectively told investigators to end the investigations into preferential treatment without questioning those above the currently indicted suspects, such as Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

It is inappropriate for the justice minister to comment on specific cases under investigation, even if they are not politically sensitive. But he plainly flouted regulations that prohibit the justice minister from interfering in ongoing investigations.

Park defended the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, despite its various problems that have come to light. He remarked to the effect that the agency needs encouragement.

This is not for the justice minister, of all people, to say. The agency is under fire for biased probes targeting the presidential candidate of the opposition party. It has curried favor with those in power by escorting a senior prosecutor in its official vehicle even though he was summoned for questioning, apparently because he enjoys the confidence of the current regime. Lately it was found to have secretly checked the phone records of reporters, civilians critical of the agency, and opposition party lawmakers including Yoon and his wife.

Even as calls were mounting for the breakup of the agency, Park avoided commenting on the issue, citing its independence as an investigation agency. Rather, he said he will consider dispatching employees of the Justice Ministry and the prosecution to the agency. Now that suspicions of secret surveillance have surfaced, it is reasonable to launch a probe, but the justice minister says he will support the CIO.

Park reveals his political bias outright. He is not entitled to say judicial justice and common sense. If he keeps up the pressure on investigations that must be conducted impartially, elections and democracy cannot but be shaken.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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