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Ex-Supreme Court chief to be grilled in power abuse probe

All News 05:30 January 11, 2019

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae was set to undergo prosecution questioning Friday over allegations that he used trials as political leverage to lobby the previous government to achieve his personal ambitions.

His presence is expected at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office by 9:30 a.m. Prosecutors summoned him last Friday, and Yang has said he would comply with the request.

It makes Yang the first former head of South Korea's Supreme Court to face a prosecution interrogation as a criminal suspect. The former veteran justice led the top court from 2011 to September 2017, when he retired.

Yang will issue a formal statement near the Supreme Court before he goes to the prosecution.

Yang, 71, is suspected of using or seeking to use trials as bargaining chips in its dealing with the then Park Geun-hye government to get her approval for establishing a separate court of appeals, his long-envisioned plan.

He allegedly instructed his officials at the National Court Administration (NCA), the top court's governing body, to devise ways to interfere in trials whose rulings potentially held high political significance for Park.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae speaks to reporters about the top court's power abuse allegations near his residence in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, east of Seoul, on June 1, 2018. (Yonhap)

He pressured judges in charge of such trials to deliver verdicts in Park's favor and disadvantaged the judges who were opposed to establishing another appeals court, prosecutors said.

He is also accused of having orchestrated a delay in the deliberation of a damages suit filed by Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labor, to curry favor with the former president who was seeking amicable relations with Tokyo.

Yang has denied the allegations.

Prosecutors say they have enough evidence to charge him.

They have obtained a testimony from the then lead justice in the forced labor case claiming how Yang warned him of a possible international dispute if the ruling was made in the victims' favor.

Yang then allegedly told him to "build up arguments that can reverse" the top court's earlier ruling.

The corruption trial of Won Sei-hoon, former spy chief, is also among the trials in question. His election violation charges could potentially undermine the legitimacy of Park's victory in the 2012 presidential race.

The mounting scandal has put the entire judiciary under unprecedented intense scrutiny, mingled with mixed reactions within the judicial circle toward the widening probe.

While junior-level judges mostly accept the need for the probe and call for self-reflection, many senior judges have expressed displeasure, accusing the prosecution of carrying it too far to discredit the court system.

It is widely expected that prosecutors will seek a court warrant to arrest Yang, for which they would need approval from Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il, given the nature of the high profile case.


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