The image of prosecutors in soap operas and movies is double-sided. They are depicted as guardians of justice who fight crime and injustice on the one hand and as a symbol of power or people who abuse their positions on the other. Suspicion over prosecutors who allegedly took gifts and bribes and efforts to cover it up are a big disappointment to the people, who have good memories of prosecutors from movies and TV shows.
The results of an investigation by a fact-finding committee released Wednesday said a senior prosecutor was provided sex compliments of a construction company CEO in South Gyeongsang Province. Another prosecutor took one million won (870 U.S. dollars) in a cash bribe, while others received free meals and entertainment. The Busan District Public Prosecutors` Office failed to report the infractions to upper management and ignored or covered them up despite the CEOs complaints.
The results of the probe are insignificant compared with what the entrepreneur originally alleged, which was even more shocking. The committee said much of what he claimed was inconsistent and incompatible with the facts, but that it faced limits in unearthing the truth, including in acquiring evidence, because such suspicions had been raised for decades. What the committee discovered, however, is enough to verify the legitimacy of major suspicions over prosecutors with sponsors.
The culture of sponsored prosecutors is so deeply rooted in Korean society that it is considered an open secret. As recently as last year, a senior prosecutor bribed by Taekwang Industries Chairman Park Yeon-cha was forced to resign. Prosecutor-General nominee Chun Sung-kwan was not confirmed due to suspicion that he received favors. The TV investigative news magazine PD Notebook spoke of other sponsored prosecutors based on testimonies from staff at upscale bars and former insiders of the prosecution. Not all of the allegations will probably turn out true but some might not be groundless, either.
Prosecutors are representatives of the public interest. If they want to investigate corruption or crime, they themselves need a high level of morality and integrity. If prosecutors frequent expensive establishments like hostess bars on their salaries, they will have no choice but to find sponsors. The excessive authority prosecutors possess might be a problem, but a bigger problem is if they collude with their sponsors to abuse their power and authority.
To prevent prosecutors from accepting gifts for favors, the fact-finding committee suggested improving the culture among prosecutors and a self-cleaning drive. If necessary, everything must change, be it institution, perception or culture. If the prosecution does not travel on the right path, it will not only spoil itself, but also place national institutions on shaky ground.