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The ball is in their court

Feb 28,2017
Special prosecutors under independent counsel Park Young-soo deserve our praise for their thorough 90-day investigation of the unprecedented abuse of power scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil.

The prosecutors have made remarkable accomplishments on a myriad of suspicions over the lead-up to the establishment of the controversial Mi-R and K-Sports foundations, the leaks of sensitive government documents to Choi, Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra’s illicit admission to Ewha Womans University, the existence of a black list of writers and artists against President Park and Samsung Group’s illegitimate financial support for Chung, an equestrian athlete — just to name a few. The prosecutors have brought to light those shady deals among President Park, Choi, An Chong-bum, former presidential secretary for policy coordination and others to offer privileges to the Choi clan.

But we have some regrets, too. Above all, the independent counsel team failed to investigate Park face to face despite her vow to “sincerely comply with the investigations.” She should have come forward and made clear her positions on various issues if she was really innocent. That was her last-remaining obligation as president. But she didn’t.

In the meantime, the special prosecutor’s probe into Woo Byung-woo, former presidential secretary for civil affairs, who is under suspicion for helping or conniving in Park’s abuse of power, are still ongoing. The prosecution must clear up all remaining doubts once they take over the case from the independent counsel.

The independent counsel wraps up investigations today. A call for extending their probe sounds reasonable. But they also have to take into account the Constitutional Court’s final ruling, which is expected around March 10. Special prosecutors’ investigations after Park’s dismissal or return can hardly avoid controversy. If the highest court delivers a verdict against her, followed by an early presidential election, the prosecutors’ investigation could trigger suspicion over the fairness of their investigation.

Irrespective of the stakes involved, all the parties need to accept Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn’s decision to not extend the independent counsel’s investigation, as it could help foster a culture of accepting the top court’s ruling.

The government needs to let at least some of the special prosecutors do their job in order to sustain a public prosecution. The government must help avoid a case in which only an assistant to the independent counsel have to deal with a number of lawyers for Park and others in the coming criminal trials.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 28, Page 38