|Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl walks through the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seocho, Seoul, Tuesday. / Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho|
By Lee Suh-yoon
Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl announced Friday that the prosecution will no longer allow the press the opportunity to photograph suspects or witnesses arriving for questioning by prosecutors.
The reform was put forward to the President Moon Jae-in administration amid the ongoing investigation into Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family over corruption allegations
To date, it has been common practice for the prosecutors' office to alert the media in advance, allowing journalists to photograph such high-profile people on a "press photo line" at the main entrance. This arrangement "updated the public" on ongoing investigations, but also served as a powerful political tool, making targeted suspects look guilty before any allegations were proven.
"We have prepared revisions to our press relations practices to better protect the rights of people under investigation, while at the same time ensuring the press can still monitor investigations and guaranteeing the public's right to get information," the Supreme Prosecutors' Office was quoted as saying by Yonhap. "Getting rid of the public summoning of suspects was one thing that was repeatedly brought up both inside and outside the prosecution."
A day before the announcement, prosecutors summoned Chung Kyung-shim, wife of the embattled justice minister, for questioning. It reversed its original decision to make Chung's summoning public and brought her in through a back door. She will be questioned two more times on allegations she forged certificates for her children's university admissions, and took part in dubious dealings at a private equity fund she and her family invested in through a relative, recently charged and arrested for embezzlement.
|Photojournalists wait for Justice Minister Cho's wife at a photo line set up at the main entrance to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office, Thursday. Prosecutors, however, brought Chung Kyung-shim in through a back door. / Yonhap|
Eliminating the photo line, however, is a small part of the proposed reform to curb the prosecution's unchecked power. Justice Minister Cho's main goal in office is to give some of the prosecution's investigative powers to the police, and set up a new independent body free of collusive ties to politicians and officials. Many interpret the unprecedented scope and scale of the probe into the minister's family as resistance to such reform.
In a separate announcement Tuesday, Yoon said he would close down special investigation units that deal with high-profile corruption cases. Both this and Friday's proposal to scrap the photo line follows a rally in front of the prosecutors' office in Seocho last weekend, where a million people turned up to condemn what they allege is the prosecution's "politically-charged" probe into Cho's family.
Ruling Democratic Party of korea Rep. Lee Hae-chan called the earlier announcement "a formal pretense at reform."
Though investigation are ongoing, alleged sources in the prosecution have reportedly leaked updates on it on a daily basis since Cho's inauguration. In response, Cho's daughter Cho Min gave a rare interview Friday morning to refute the updates, including one that claimed she admitted to doing an internship from her home.
"I submitted the certificates I received after carrying out the volunteer work and internships to the schools. I did not forge any documents," she said on local radio station TBS. Cho added that she was worried her mother was being pressured into admitting falsehoods in order to shield her from similar allegations.
Meanwhile, the prosecution is continuing its investigation, looking for evidence to link to the justice minister so it can indict him. On Friday morning, they filed an arrest warrant for Cho's younger brother on charges of illicit management of an educational institute, including allegedly accepting bribes during the teacher recruitment process. The prosecution could summon the justice minister for questioning once they finish collecting testimony from his family and other concerned parties.