Public prosecutors have returned an iPhone to the owner, Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon, as he was acquitted in April from charges against him in connection with his suspected coercion in news gathering around Sillagen, it has been revealed belatedly.
According to sources in the judicial community on Sunday, Criminal Department 1 at the Seoul Central District Public Prosecutors’ Office decided that his iPhone that had been seized be returned as he was acquitted in April from suspicion over Han’s attempted coercion. “We have judged that attempts to unlock his phone using currently available technology 22 months after the first forensic inspection (June 2020) and eight months after the resumption of forensic investigation (July 2021) proved to be futile,” a source in the investigation team said. As prosecutors failed to decode the phone’s password, they reportedly failed make a copy of data stored in the phone containing telephone calls and text messages, before returning the phone to the minister.
The plaintiff, the Citizens’ Coalition for Democratic Media, made an appeal against the acquittal to the appellate court, but the Seoul High Public Prosecutors’ Office rejected the appeal, and the coalition reappealed the case to the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office.
Critics say that prosecutors have effectively given Minister Han a favor by returning the phone to him while the appeals process is still underway. According to Article 56 on handling of materials forfeited by prosecutors, prosecutors can only return a seized material that has value as evidence in important legal complaint cases and charges that have been acquitted only after the prosecutorial appeals process or application for an adjudication is completed.