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Former Supreme Court chief justice arrested for power abuse

Jan 25,2019
이미지뷰
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae, center, walks out of the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday, surrounded by dozens of reporters, after attending a hearing about the issuing of an arrest warrant against him. [NEWS1]
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae was arrested early Thursday morning on charges of abusing his authority to meddle with trials as part of an unconstitutional collusion with the previous administration.

This makes Yang, 71, the first former head of the judiciary in Korean history to be placed behind bars.

The arrest also stands as a historic admission by a court of law to long-standing suspicions that a systematic perversion of the course of justice occurred under the orders of the highest levels of Korea's judiciary.

The Seoul Central District Court, presided over by Judge Myeong Jae-kwon, approved Yang's arrest warrant citing the seriousness of the matter and that he presents a risk of destroying evidence based on his former position as chief justice.

Yang faces at least 40 counts of criminal charges stemming from his tenure as as head of the Supreme Court from 2011 to 2017. By ordering subordinates to tamper with ongoing trials, he has been accused of eroding the judiciary’s independence and the constitutional principle of the separation of powers, as many of the trials were allegedly meddled in to curry favor with the Park Geun-hye administration.

One of the most serious allegations against Yang is that he delayed proceedings in two suits filed by Korean victims against Japanese companies that forced them to work during World War II. The Park administration didn’t want the diplomatic headache that verdicts for the plaintiffs would have caused, and Yang allegedly tried to prevent those. The two cases were delayed by four years.

In exchange, Yang wanted the administration's backing in his pursuit to establish a new appeals court, which he apparently believed would cement his legacy as a successful chief justice.

On Friday, prosecutors followed up on months of investigations into the allegations by filing for an arrest warrant with the Seoul Central District Court, saying that Yang had evaded responsibility and consistently placed blame on his former subordinates when authorities questioned him.

Yang was awaiting the results of the court's decision on his warrant Thursday morning at the Seoul Detention Center, where he was immediately taken into custody after the writ was issued.

The court however denied an arrest warrant for one of Yang's deputies – former Supreme Court Justice Park Byoung-dae – accused of being involved in many of the same alleged crimes.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]