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[Opinion] Obstructing a Special Investigation

Posted February. 01, 2008 08:06,   


Yoon Jeong-seok, an assistant prosecutor for the independent counsel investigating allegations that Samsung Group amassed slush funds to bribe officials, likened the probe to a “war.” He said getting to the bottom of the matter was an uphill battle. He also compared bringing in Samsung executives for questioning to a “battle.” The special prosecution team has questioned witnesses for over ten consecutive days, but produced no visible results. That seems to be because Samsung has already taken measures not to reveal any information by its executives and employees after a whistle blower alleged the group established bank accounts under the names of employees to raise slush funds. Amid little progress in the probe, the counsel publicly denounced the group for “intentionally” obstructing the investigation on Wednesday.

The special investigation team is locking horns with Samsung officials outside the investigation, as well. As Samsung expressed their unreserved displeasure against the prosecution for hindering business, the independent counsel’s Head Prosecutor Cho Joon-woong refuted the company’s claim, saying, “It is not prosecutors but the criminals who are hindering the business. In an attempt to eliminate evidence, they conceal and manipulate account books and don’t come to work to avoid the investigation. That undermines their business.” He went on the say that if they did nothing wrong or if they willingly submit to the questioning regardless of their wrongdoings, there should be no reason to worry about their business.” His remarks ring true.

However, considering the investigation is in its initial stages where nobody says whether those subject to questioning are summoned as witnesses or suspects, Samsung’s worries seem reasonable. When the identities of those summoned are made public, their privacy will be violated and the company’s overseas business may suffer big losses. The investigation team should not hinder the group’s profit making and it is also obliged to respect Samsung employees’ rights. As the saying goes, “Penny wise and pound foolish,” the prosecution is advised to tread carefully. To fairly exercise its authority, it should ask for collaboration rather than resorting to high-handedness.

Samsung’s attempt to hamper the investigation cannot be justified either. Head Prosecutor Cho resented one CEO’s purposeful obstruction of the investigation. “He asked me to repeal the overseas travel ban citing an important overseas contract. I promised to do so if he cooperated with the investigation. This time, he refused saying he didn’t want to be caught by TV cameras,” said the prosecutor. Some employees intentionally destroyed computer data while search operations were underway. Samsung should bear in mind that these unseemly and unjust acts can undermine the image of “Global Samsung.”