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Prosecutor who killed himself is called scapegoat

When governments change, new bigwigs seek political payback
Nov 09,2017
The recent suicide of Byun Chang-hoon, a 48-year-old prosecutor who was accused of obstructing a prosecutorial probe in 2013 of the National Intelligence Service while temporarily serving as a legal adviser to the spy agency, has triggered an angry backlash against the Moon Jae-in administration. Some of Byun’s colleagues claim he was a scapegoat caught up in the president’s drive to take political revenge on his conservative predecessor.

Byun, who worked for the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office, jumped off the fourth floor of a law firm building in Seocho District, southern Seoul, Monday at 2 p.m., apparently while seeking advice in advance of a court hearing meant to review a request to detain him. The warrant was filed by a special investigation team in the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

Byun was among seven people whose homes and offices were raided by the investigation team on Oct. 27 on suspicions they obstructed an earlier special investigation in 2013, which was tasked with verifying whether the National Intelligence Service illegally waged a cyber smear campaign against then-liberal presidential candidate Moon in the 2012 election. Moon lost by a narrow margin to his opponent Park Geun-hye. Byun, at that time, was provisionally dispatched to the spy agency in order to offer legal advice.

Soon after the prosecution announced it would crack down on the election-meddling scandal through a special probe, the chief of the NIS at the time, who was tapped by former President Park, formed an internal task force to obstruct the investigations. Among the task force members was Byun.

Some prosecutors, while commending Byun’s immaculate work ethic and high reputation among his colleagues, say that he was simply following orders from the NIS, and that anyone could have been put in his shoes.

“Do prosecutors really have to suffer like this every time the administration changes?” asked a senior prosecutor who was visiting Byun’s mourning altar Tuesday. “From now on, if I get orders I think are even the slightest bit illegal, I’m going to ask them to be written as official documents.”

Another high-ranking official from the prosecution compared Byun’s death to the Sahwa incident in the late 15th and 16th centuries, when Sarim scholars were persecuted by political rivals who rose to power.

One retired prosecutor who now works as a lawyer accused every new Blue House of “tossing every political issue” to the prosecution.

“And when the investigation results fail to turn out as the presidential office wanted, then prosecutors are trashed for leading a ‘lopsided’ probe. I don’t know when this will all end,” the retired prosecutor said.

Among those who visited Byun’s mourning altar were Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il, Justice Minister Park Sang-ki, and the chief prosecutors of the district prosecutors’ offices representing east Seoul, Daegu and Incheon, among others.

Yoon Seok-yeol, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, did not make an appearance.

BY HYUN IL-HOON, KIM MIN-SANG AND BAEK MIN-KYUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]