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New prosecutor-general must start with reform

Posted March. 16, 2013 14:58,   


Chae Dong-wook, head of the Seoul High Prosecutors` Office, has been nominated the first prosecutor-general of the Park Geun-hye administration. One hundred five days have passed since his predecessor Han Sang-dae stepped down in disgrace. Given the confirmation hearing schedule, Chae can start work from early next month. He bears a heavy responsibility as he should reset and conduct reforms an organization that has gone lax due to the long absence of a chief.

The Supreme Court acquitted former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook on the charge of accepting bribes worth 50,000 dollars. Prosecutors need to feel responsible about the controversial probe Han, a high-profile member of the opposition party who was cleared of the charge. The investigation hit her hard because she was about to run for Seoul mayor for the main opposition Democratic United Party in 2010. She was found not guilty in the first trial but lost in the mayoral race to Oh Se-hoon by 0.6 percentage point. Prosecutors might use the excuse that they lost because Kwak Yeong-wook, former CEO of Korea Express, changed his testimony in court. They seem incompetent, however, as their probe merely relied on the words of the alleged bribe giver. Moreover, suspicion is rising that coercion came from the top. The new prosecutor-general should remember that a combination of an investigation with no proof and political bias produced the worst outcome.

Koreans have no respect for prosecutors. Following various corruption scandals, prosecution committed much bigger scandals last year, such as a high-ranking prosecutor taking bribes and an entry-level prosecutor having sex with a suspect. This led to an internal brouhaha and Han`s resignation as prosecutor-general. Choi Jae-gyeong, then the head of the central investigation department, strongly opposed Han’s reform plan including the removal of his department. Chae, who used to be deputy head of the Supreme Prosecutors` Office, is not free from this responsibility.

President Park pledged to remove the central investigation department to reform the prosecution. She also pledged to introduce an independent prosecutor to probe corruption by the president’s relatives and confidants under an independent investigation system, while removing the posts of deputy minister in the prosecutorial organization. This, however, can happen only when prosecutors give up their privileges. If Chae refuses reform for the sake of his organization, the people, not the president, will not tolerate this. All prosecutors including the new prosecutor-general should do everything to reform their organization.

Chae was born in Seoul but is categorized as being from North Jeolla Province because his father was from there. President Park excluded those from her hometown, alumni and confidants from consideration in filling key positions such as prosecutor-general, commissioner of the National Police Agency and the head of the National Tax Service. She seems to have learned the lessons of her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, who caused controversy for appointing confidants to key posts. Corruption can be prevented by appointing those with no relations to the president in powerful agencies.