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Charges against Cho seen as justified; Source of 'external pressure' must be identified
Shortly after the court rejected the prosecution's request for an arrest warrant for former Justice Minister Cho Kuk on Friday, Cheong Wa Dae said the court decision showed that the prosecution's request was unreasonable.
This comment appears intended to call attention to the need to reform the prosecution. The ruling party hailed the court decision as rational, and revealed its true colors by saying, "We will push through a bill to create a separate investigation agency targeting high-ranking officials."
If the bill is passed, the agency can take over all cases involving high-ranking officials, including the Cho scandal, from the prosecution. There are great concerns that investigations unfavorable to the ruling camp will fizzle out under the agency.
The court's rejection of an arrest warrant does not mean investigations were excessive or unreasonable. It said that although the suspicions had been supported, there is little concern the suspect will destroy evidence or flee. The court also said it took into consideration the situation of Cho's wife, who is in detention. She stands trial on several charges, including financial crimes and forgery. Cho is accused of illegally ending a Cheong Wa Dae inspection into bribery allegations against Yoo Jae-soo, a former Busan vice mayor, when he was the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs.
The most salient point of the court's decision is that the case against him is reasonable.
"The suspect set back the constitutionalism and undermined state functions by abusing his official authority (as the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs)," the court said, "The nature of the offense is not good."
It is inappropriate and misleading to talk down the prosecution's investigations citing the court's rejection of an arrest warrant. Interpretations with intent to criticize the prosecution will only intensify suspicions.
That an arrest warrant was issued or rejected does not mean the suspect is guilty or not. If a writ is not issued, it does not mean the case is negligible. The opposite is true with a high-profile case such as this.
Generally, the phrase "the nature of the offense is not good," is among justifications cited by the court to issue an arrest warrant. But on this occasion, the court said the gravity of the offense does not warrant arrest.
From the standpoint of common sense, this sounds contradictory. It gives the impression that the court tried to find a balance point mechanically. Cho avoided arrest, while charges were assumed to have been justified.
Woo Byung-woo was sentenced to two years and six months in the first trial for neglecting his duty of inspecting into allegations against Choi Sun-sil, a confidante of President Park Geun-hye, when he was Park's senior secretary for civil affairs. Woo was tried in detention. Considering Cho faces similar or maybe more serious charges than Woo, it is questionable if the court treated the two cases equally.
Allegations against Cho and his family split public opinion severely for about four months. Many people expected the court to draw a clear line, but regrettably, the line looks hazy.
The prosecution has sought an arrest warrant for Ulsan Vice Mayor Song Byung-gi in connection with election meddling allegations. Song is suspected of colluding with Cheong Wa Dae to elect an old friend of the president as Ulsan mayor. Cho is not free from this scandal. The court should take a definite decision this time.
Though an arrest warrant against Cho was rejected, the prosecution does not need to be discouraged. The accusations were viewed as convincing. It must keep up its investigations to get to the bottom of the case.
Cho is said to have admitted during the warrant hearing that there were requests from "figures close to President Moon" for the termination of an inspection into bribery allegations against the former Busan vice mayor.
Who exercised this pressure must be disclosed. If needed, the prosecution should seek an arrest warrant again.
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