By Lee Kyung-min
The prosecution has begun floating the idea of introducing plea bargaining in a bid to bolster conviction rates as investigators face increasing difficulties in convicting suspects in recent high-profile corruption cases.
Using plea bargaining, prosecutors seek lesser charges in return for defendants pleading guilty or offering key testimony against higher-profile criminals. It allows prosecutors to focus their time and resources on other cases, and reduces the number of trials judges must hear.
The prosecution reform committee under the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office held a meeting, Wednesday, to discuss measures to revise the current guidelines where prosecutors must press charges for major criminal cases when they believe they have enough evidence to convict suspects.
The discussion came six years after the justice ministry’s move to implement plea bargaining failed in 2011 due to criticism that it would only embolden the prosecution and serve their interests in seeking convenience.
The committee also discussed measures to expand the current system where a court can order a trial be continued, following a review of cases the prosecution earlier concluded were without merit. The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13.
Meanwhile, the long-stalled discussion coincided with the surprise ruling of Jang Si-ho, the niece of Choi Soon-sil, the confidant of former President Park Geun-hye.
Jang was indicted for pressuring Samsung and a culture ministry-affiliated organization to give 1.6 billion won ($1.3 million) and 200 million won, respectively, to the Winter Sports Elite Center she owned.
The Seoul Central District Court sentenced Jang to two-and-a-half years in prison, Wednesday, in what was considered a show of force to dismiss the prosecution which demanded only one-and-a-half years for her continued cooperation with the investigation into the corruption scandal that removed Park from office.
Jang was referred to as a “helper of the independent counsel-led special team” for giving statements and information crucial to help it question key suspects.
Jang-submitted a tablet PC containing classified state information that was entered into evidence. She also revealed that Park and Choi used phones registered under borrowed names, substantiating the then-growing allegations about the close relationship of the two and that they had to keep their phone conversations secret.
The prosecution could have sought up to 15 years in prison for Jang had it sought aggravated charges of fraud, embezzlement and for violating the law governing eligibility for securing a state subsidy, but sought a lighter sentence instead that was considered a “favor” for her help.