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Prosecutors accused of political targeting

Sept 13,2018
The main opposition party on Wednesday criticized the investigation of the head of a small-business lobbying group that has been vocal about the Moon Jae-in administration’s economic policies as political suppression.

Choi Seung-jae, the chairman of the Korea Federation of Micro Enterprise (KFME), is under investigation for allegedly embezzling the organization’s funds after he failed to properly report a 467 million won ($414,000) contract for a project in 2016.

Choi was elected to another term as chairman of the small-business lobbying group in March. The following month, a group of five people dissatisfied with how the KFME was being run filed charges against Choi with the police.

Seoul’s Dongjak Police Precinct, however, determined in July that there was lack of evidence pointing to embezzlement and sent the case to the prosecution. The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office on Sept. 4 requested that the KFME submit its accounting records, a sign that it might be redoing the investigation.

“We requested an investigation because Choi did not internally report a project worth hundreds of millions of won,” a member of the group told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday over phone. “The police investigation was lacking, so we tried to submit supplementary documents. But we were told that the police investigation had already ended and been passed to the prosecution, so we were asked to submit them there.”

The individual, who asked to remain anonymous, said the five complainants were supporters of different political parties. “I don’t want this case to be appropriated as some political cause,” the person said.

The KFME has been one of the more vocal groups against President Moon’s economic policies, which includes raising the minimum wage to 10,000 won by 2020. On Aug. 29, the KFME organized a rally of more than 30,000 small-business owners in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, demanding the government change its minimum wage policies. They later marched to the Blue House.

Kim Byung-joon, the interim leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, lashed out at the prosecutors’ probe into Choi, noting that he has “protested over the government’s minimum wage policy.”

In a post on his Facebook account on Wednesday, Kim said that the prosecutors’ investigation, despite police determining there were no grounds for a probe, is “no different than acts from past dictatorships.” He added that this was a move to “seal the lips” of the KFME and warned that “public sentiment, which has turned its back [on Moon], will never return.”

Kim Sung-tae, floor leader of the party, also said on the same day during a policy meeting, “the Moon Jae-in government has officially begun political repression because we haven’t been cooperating substantially. The Dongjak police didn’t find any charges against [Choi], so the Seoul prosecutors restarting an investigation is clearly a sign of a targeted investigation and repression.”

However, an official from the prosecutors’ office said that cases could still be sent to them even if the police drew its own conclusion.

“We are not redoing the investigation,” the official said. “The group that filed the complaint continues to have objections, so we have only received additional documents.”

BY KIM MIN-SANG, LEE TAE-YOON AND SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]