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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Sept. 10)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:07 September 10, 2021

Time for an independent probe

Opposition People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Kim Woong held a press conference on allegations related to his role as a middleman for handing over a criminal complaint prepared by a senior prosecutor to the PPP to help the party ahead in the April 15 parliamentary elections last year. But the prosecutor-turned-lawmaker only fueled confusion by claiming that he could not remember the affair.

Over whether he had received a file of complaint from prosecutor Son Jun-sung, then chief of investigative information policy at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, Kim said, "I cannot recall or have no way to confirm it." Then he added, "If the materials reported in the media are true, the circumstances suggest I had received them from Son and handed them over to the party." His comments helped little to clear the suspicions.

Through the ambiguous comments, Kim tried to stress that he had broken no laws. Both ruling and opposition party members found him cleverly trying to circle around the law. Kim argued that the complaint filed by the United Future Party (UFP), predecessor of the PPP, against Choe Kang-wook -- head of the splinter opposition Open Democratic Party and former presidential secretary — had nothing to do with him. "Even if I was implicated in the file, I just tossed it to the party as I was too busy with the election campaign," Kim said.

The issue has become a hot potato ahead of the next presidential election in March. The ruling front is pointing to Yoon Seok-youl — former prosecutor general and frontrunner in polls among presidential hopefuls from the PPP -- for setting up the complaint scheme when he was the top prosecutor. Former Democratic Party (DP) chief Lee Hae-chan said he had heard there were three political schemes under work during last year's parliamentary elections and that the complaint was one of them. He criticized the act as a serious crime against the nation, damaging democracy and intervening with election. The ruling party demands Yoon be investigated and resign from presidential candidacy.

Yoon also held a separate press conference and found the scandal as a political plot to win the next presidential election. "The scenario is a cliché. Without clear source and writer, the material cannot be evidence," he said. "Am I that threatening? Can governing power be won just by removing me?" Yoon challenged DP lawmakers to summon him to a legislative questioning.

The suspicions must be cleared to save a lengthy wasteful political wrangling. Since the whistleblower is said to have handed his phone to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, details of conversation and messaging with Rep. Kim could be confirmed. However, as Han Dong-soo, chief of inspection at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, is a pro-government prosecutor, the fairness in the inspection could be questioned.

The Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials is expected to take up the case. But the prosecution also must also find the truth.

(END)

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