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[Opinion] Selecting Independent Counsel

Posted December. 01, 2007 04:53,   


The history of independent counsel on corruption cases involving high-ranking public employees goes back to late 19th century in the U.S. The first instance was when the 18th U.S. President Ulysses Grant appointed a independent counsel to investigate the tax evasion suspicions of one of his secretaries. It was in the early 1970s when former U.S. president Richard Nixon was in office that the method was institutionalized. Nixon pledged an unlimited investigation into the Watergate scandal, but ironically he had to resign from office as a result of the inquiry by the very team he had designated.

In the 1990s, oppositions began to be raised against the Independent Counsel Act in the U.S. More specifically, people began raising questions about the independent counsel’s unchecked authority, the infinite duration of the investigations, the budget, and most importantly, questions were asked regarding fairness and political neutrality. At the center of the criticism was prosecutor Kenneth Starr who probed Bill Clinton’s sex scandal. Being a conservative, he tenaciously clung to every trivial fact and spent an equivalent of 40 billion won on probing on the scandal. As many as seven independent counsel investigations were imposed on the Clinton Administration.

In the end, the American Bar Association, the precipitator for the birth of the Independent Counsel Act, came to recommend houses to abolish the act once more. It was abolished in 1999 and what remains now is only a weakened independent counsel, the members of which are selected by the U.S. Attorney General. In the year when the old type of special prosecution was abolished in the U.S., South Korea adopted such a way. In the first year, the dress lobby scandal and the induction of a strike in the Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation became the first cases to be brought to independent counsel, and the “Lee Yong-ho Gate” scandal in 2001, the secret money transfer to North Korea, corruption of an associate of President Roh in 2003, oil field development in Russia in 2005, and a number of other cases followed suit. But the investigation on cases of the associate’s corruption and oil field development ended fruitlessly.

Independent counsel investigation into the Samsung’s slush fund scandal is to begin before the end of this year. Nobody can tell for sure that the investigation will be completed within 105 days (including first and second extensions) as provided by the law because there is just too much to inquire into. Neither should we be slaves of obsession such that the special prosecution must find out something with the wave of a magic wand. That is why we need special prosecutors who are experienced and trustworthy. Mentioned in the legal circle are former prosecutor generals L and K and the former director S of Central Investigation Division at the Prosecutor-General´s Office. More than anything else, the recommendation of three candidates by the Korean Bar Association and approval by the president should be fair. They ought to stay free from the influence of the activist groups and civil organizations.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo sooya@donga.com