Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

South Korea Loses Its Top Prosecutor to Scandals ; Resignation Follows Wave of Staff Misconduct and Infighting at Agency

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

South Korea Loses Its Top Prosecutor to Scandals ; Resignation Follows Wave of Staff Misconduct and Infighting at Agency

Article excerpt

In South Korea, the resignation of the prosecutor general, Han Sang-dae, was quickly accepted by President Lee Myung-bak, who urged the nation's prosecutors to undertake reform.

South Korea's top prosecutor resigned Friday following a wave of scandals and public infighting in his office, which polls indicate is one of the country's most feared, yet least respected, government agencies.

The resignation of the prosecutor general, Han Sang-dae, was quickly accepted by President Lee Myung-bak, who urged the nation's prosecutors to undertake "self-reflection" and "reform to restore the trust of the people."

For weeks, the Supreme Prosecutors' Office has been embarrassed by a series of scandals within its ranks. Early in November, a senior prosecutor, Kim Kwang-joon, was arrested on charges of accepting 900 million won, or $831,000, in bribes from a conglomerate and from the man suspected of being the mastermind behind a Ponzi scheme. Days later, a junior prosecutor was charged with having sex with a female suspect whom he had been questioning in a theft case.

Amid the uproar over those incidents, another prosecutor issued a public call for thorough reform in the agency -- but, in a text message meant for a friend that became public after he mistakenly sent it to a reporter, the prosecutor wrote that he was merely paying lip service to the idea in hopes of appeasing the public and the news media.

A survey released this week by a government anti-corruption panel found that the law enforcement authorities of South Korea -- prosecutors, the police and the Justice Ministry -- were viewed as being the most corrupt arms of the government.

"I bow before the people in apology because the prosecution caused a great shock and disappointment," Mr. Han, the chief prosecutor, said Friday.

Prosecutors in South Korea have long been accused of wielding outsize influence. They supervise police investigations and decide who will be indicted (South Korea has no grand jury system). The office's elite Central Investigation Unit, which investigates high- profile corruption cases among tycoons, politicians and relatives of high-ranking officials, is both feared by politicians and derided by civic groups that say it essentially serves the interests of the political establishment by selectively pursuing certain targets and ignoring others. …

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