An array of problems have come out of the prosecution’s investigation into corruption suspicions in connection with a real estate development project in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.
The rejection of an arrest warrant for Kim Man-bae, the largest shareholder in Hwacheon Daeyu who is a key person of interest in the scandal, is a humiliation for the prosecution. The court threw out its request for an arrest warrant of Kim on Thursday night.
The scandal stems from allegations that Yoo Dong-gyu, former chief of the planning headquarters of Seongnam Development Corp., was involved in allowing Hwacheon Daeyu, a little-known private firm with little capital, to reap astronomical development profits from the project implemented when Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung was Seongnam mayor. Yoo is said to be a close associate of Lee, who was recently chosen as the ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential candidate. Lee appointed Yoo to the post. Seongnam Development is a public enterprise affiliated with the Seongnam municipal government.
The court’s rejection of the request for a warrant indicates that bribe-offering, breach of trust, and embezzlement charges brought by the prosecution against Kim are based on insufficient evidence.
This speaks volumes about the prosecution’s rough and shoddy probe.
Considering its messy investigations thus far, the prosecution seems to have requested an arrest warrant that the court would have to dismiss.
It was unusual for the prosecution to request a warrant for Kim after interrogating him just once. It said that it will contact Kim’s attorneys to fix the date for an additional round of questioning. Then, President Moon Jae-in ordered a swift investigation, and it requested an arrest warrant suddenly -- just 3 1/2 hours later.
It pressed charges of professional negligence that eventually led to a huge loss to Seongnam citizens, but it did not even search the Seongnam city hall, though the local government gives approval on issues regarding the project.
Then on Friday, a day after its request for an arrest warrant was thrown out, the prosecution raided the municipal building.
The search came too late, 22 days after the prosecution launched its investigation. The search should have been conducted earlier. The scandal broke out in late August, so the belated raid gave Kim and other persons of interest nearly 50 days during which they could destroy evidence if they attempted. They may have already eliminated many pieces of evidence.
Furthermore, it is questionable if the raid on the Seongnam city hall was thorough. The Seongnam mayor has the ultimate authority to approve the choice of private-sector partners for projects such as Hwacheon Daeyu, and the distribution of development profits. The prosecution did not search the mayor’s office.
In requesting a warrant in connection with such a high-profile corruption scandal, it was inconsistent in its description of the bribe-giving charge.
When it requested an arrest warrant for Yoo on charges of receiving a bribe from Hwacheon Daeyu, apparently in return for designing a profit-distribution scheme favorable to the asset management firm, the prosecution charged that Kim gave Yoo 500 million won ($422,000) -- 400 million won in checks and 100 million won in cash.
However, during the hearing for a warrant against Kim, it gave a different account, saying that Kim gave all of the money in cash.
It is also questionable if it tracked accounts properly. When the judge asked the prosecution if it tracked accounts, the investigating team is said to have replied to the effect that it was underway. Account tracking is one of the basics of bribery investigations.
The prosecution is stepping up investigations after Moon’s instruction, but it appears to be trying to give its probe a lick and a promise.
In the meantime, it was revealed that Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo worked as a legal adviser to the Seongnam municipal government for five months before taking over as top prosecutor. Critics and opposition party lawmakers demand Kim recuse himself from the case. Their demand sounds reasonable.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to trust the outcomes of the investigation, whatever they will be.
By Korea Herald (email@example.com