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A dereliction of duty

Sept 17,2019
CHOI SUN-WOOK
The author is a national team reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The police felt uneasy during the Chuseok holidays while checking traffic safety and crime prevention. That’s because they had to hand over the results of their five month-long investigation to prosecutors into a clash between ruling and opposition parties over a controversial fast-track bill, without finalizing it, due to their superiority in the command chain.

The physical clash at the National Assembly over an election law revision bill and a bill on establishing a special agency to investigate crimes of senior government officials led to lawsuits between ruling and opposition parties. As the fight even involved a crowbar, citizens criticized our politics. The ruling and opposition parties blamed each other and asked law enforcement agencies to decide who is accountable for the violence. The task was assigned to the police.

A total of 109 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle became suspects. The police made thick investigation reports for each lawmaker after analyzing a huge amount of surveillance footage and videos filmed by broadcasters during the tussle. Before producing an outcome from all the efforts, all materials had to be handed over to prosecutors. It is no wonder that the police felt so uncomfortable.

But it is questionable whether the police really fulfilled their responsibility. In the course of the investigation, 98 lawmakers were asked to report to the police, but all 59 opposition Liberty Korea Party members refused to appear. Thirty-one of them were given the third subpoena but did not report to the police.

What would have happened if an average citizen refused a subpoena three times? Opposition party aides say that it could have been a reason for arrest by the police. But it never happened.

So the police cannot avoid the criticism that it delayed the investigation process for political reasons, along with the lawmakers who did not cooperate with the investigation claiming that the opposition party was being suppressed. The police explained that the case was handed over to prosecutors because the summoned suspects refuse to appear. If the lawmakers respond to prosecutors’ subpoenas or prosecutors make a decision to forcibly proceed with the investigation, the police wouldn’t be able to avoid the criticism for failing to act earlier.

What people expect from law enforcement agencies is an investigation based on principles not swayed by political situations. The police would lose public trust if they focus on which faction their investigation would benefit — instead of abiding by principles.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 16, Page 28