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[Opinion] Probe Obstruction by Court Officials

Posted August. 27, 2008 09:34,   


In Aug. 1981, when the whole nation was rocked by the murder of the old woman Yoon Gyeong-hwa, police officer Ha Yeong-woong at Yongsan Police Station in Seoul went to the crime scene to gather the victim’s belongings. But he did something an investigator shouldn’t do. He took three certificates of deposit worth 5.5 million won he found at the scene. The 13-year veteran investigator was caught cashing the certificates through a private loan issuer and thrown in prison for dereliction of duty and embezzlement. His misconduct hindered the investigation and led to the release of a murder suspect, leaving the incident a permanently unsolved case.

Up until the 1980s, murder scenes were often a mess and so unsecured that evidence critical to investigators were often stolen. Ha’s pocketing of a victim’s assets was probably not an isolated case at the time. Reporters also stole victims’ photos and diaries to get a scoop. To prevent such misconduct, police started cordoning off crime scenes with strings to ban people’s access and preserve the scenes.

In general crackdowns on pocketpicking and prostitution, crooked police used to tip off targeted businesses and gangs in advance. A leak of investigation information can help suspect flee or destroy evidence. Because of this, ensuring confidentiality is a critical element for an investigation. The importance of confidentiality is especially pronounced in abductions or threats. To arrest perpetrators, police often make an informal agreement with media on coverage of cases after an arrest.

Court officials are under investigation for obstructing investigations into illegal protests against U.S. beef imports and threats made against businesses running ads in three major dailies. Certain staff reportedly orchestrated the threats through Web cafes. One member of the court employee union is alleged to have stolen probe data from the court management system and handed it over to the accused. The union has denounced prosecutors for what it calls an excessive response. But the union must first apologize for allowing those convicted for violating the National Security Law to join the union and use the court management system at will. Justice is impossible if court employees continue to collude with the accused.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)