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Seoul Judge Cancels Lee Dong-jae Search Warrant

A central district Seoul judge upon application by the attorney for Lee Dong-jae, the now jailed former reporter for the ultra-conservative Channel A News, has canceled the search warrants by which his hand phones and notebook were obtained by investigators.

Lee Dong-jae is a prime suspect in the so called press-prosecution collusion scandal. Lee is under investigation for attempting to coerce Lee Chol, currently jailed for financial crimes related to his investment business, into incriminating political pundit and former cabinet minister Yoo Shi-min with false evidence. Senior prosecutor Han Dong-hun is suspected of conspiring with Lee Dong-jae to do this. Han Dong-hun is allegedly close to the Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol. The judge's ruling effectively withdraws the evidence, including forensic evidence of audio files of conversations between Han and Lee, and the incriminating "timeline" and transcripts associated with them from consideration in the case. The decision by Judge Kim Chan-hyun was made the same day the Prosecutors' Committee to Consider Investigative Evidence recommended against investigation of Han Dong-hun and for a no indictment disposition. The latter recommendation has no procedural weight according to the Ministry of Justice and is regarded as a public relations effort by the Prosecutor General's Office to influence the media and public opinion. The Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office is conducting an independent investigation and the Ministry of Justice ordered the Prosecutor General to desist from interference.

The judge stated that the procedure followed to execute the warrant issued last April to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's investigative team was defective, failing to provide sufficient notice to Lee Dong-hae, of the contents of the warrant, the items to be seized and the circumstances surrounding the seizure. According to UPI Korea, there was an attempt to serve the warrant at the homes of two reporters and at the office of Channel A News, April 28. The phones were not surrendered at that time due to resistance by the reporters. Then later on May 18, a representative from Channel A News surrendered Lee's two hand phones and notebook at a Seoul Hotel to investigators. On May 22, Lee personally visited the Seoul Central District Office to participate in the forensic investigation of which he alleged he had not been informed. At that time he filed his application for judicial review regarding the warrant.*

*법원 "영장 표지만 보여준 檢…채널A 기자 압수수색 위법" 주영민 2020-07-27 08:59:44

There are various criticisms of the decision vacating the warrant. One is that the phone wasn't in possession of Lee Dong-hae, but was in the custody of Channel A News, and was surrendered by a representative of Channel A News. Channel A News had the phone in their custody after the dispute arose. Lee is claiming a "legal right" to notice of the warrant contents at the time of execution. One report suggested Lee had a right to participate in the forensic evaluation of the evidence which was violated by the nature of the warrant execution. Ironically, another judge had ruled recently that Lee Dong-jae be confined pending the investigation because he was a threat to the collection of evidence. The UPI report says an application by Lee Dong-jae for return of the evidence and withdrawal of any forensic evidence was submitted on July 27 but not yet accepted for review.

Comments on South Korean social media by journalists and pundits have criticized the decision which obstructs the investigation as a practical matter. An attorney for the investigation team, observing an appropriate professional demeanor, tactfully said they would examine the "grounds and reasoning" of the decision and consider filing an appeal. The seized items have not yet been returned to Lee Dong-jae pending a decision by the investigating team whether to proceed with an interim appeal on the illegality of the warrant execution. Whatever happens the stall tactics and the media circus conducted by the conservative media and Prosecutor General's Office continue. Prosecutor Han Dong-hun has a guaranteed podium in the Chosun Ilbo, where he ludicrously portrays himself as "martyr." One pundit noticed the similarity to Hwang Kyo-ahn's rhetoric during his theatrical hunger strike. The whole objective of the press prosecution scheme to frame Yoo Shi-min, a spokesperson for the legacy of No Mu-hyun and the popular democratic reform elements in South Korea was to negatively affect the April 15 general election in favor of the Mi Tong Dang conservatives. The same was true of the prosecution against former Justice Minister Cho Guk. The South Korean public perceived these schemes for what they were, and the conservatives went down to a historic electoral defeat. The conservative mainstream media and public prosecutors' offices are, in effect, conducting a Custer like last stand until they can get to the next general election.

South Korea: When the Crow Flies, a Pear Falls from the Tree

These are the last few paragraphs to my most recent write up about the press-prosecution collusion scandal in South Korea. This is a power struggle playing out in the courts and media which I've been interpreting for a few months.    It's almost a watergate gate type meltdown, with a discussion of the audiofiles now dominating the headlines.  It's difficult to keep up with all the developments which will determine the future of South Korea.   If you are interested in the details about the audiofiles and the so called Channel A News case of press prosecution corruption see:

South Korea's Press-Prosecution Collusion Scandal: the audio transcript July 23

.....There are several other cases in the queue of suspected prosecution-press collusion aimed at high profile democratic politicians who have been either been investigated, indicted or convicted to remove them from the political scene. The pending trials, of the former Justice Minister Cho Guk and his wife; the current governor of Kyeongkido, Lee Jae-myeong (acquitted last week); and the former Prime Minister Han Myung-sook (who was convicted on false testimony and served her sentence) are part of this pattern. There are others. The significance of the Yoo Shi-min Channel A News case is that it presents an immediate investigative challenge to the Prosecutor General's Office. It is a first attempt by the Democratic administration to get some oversight over a prosecution process that appears to have gone wild. Some critics say the unchecked abuse of power by Prosecutor General Yoon represents the final legacy of right wing authoritarian rule in South Korea. Lee Jae-myeong was a potential candidate for presidential office after President Moon's term ends. The prominent and charismatic former Justice Minister Cho Guk was also a political threat to the vested chaebol interests.

Addendum 7.24

YTN News now reports that there were additional phone calls made by Lee Dong-jae to Han Dong-hun on 3.18 and 3.20 which correspond to the timing of meetings with the "informant." It is plain for all but those who refuse to see, that Prosecutor Han Dong-hun was "outsourcing" an unethical investigation to reporters at Channel A News. Channel A denies the allegations but will not comment on the grounds for disciplining other staff at the time Lee Dong-jae was fired. To make matters worse a former Justice Minister has disclosed that he learned that Yoon Seok-yeol had a secret meeting with the CEO of Chosun Ilbo while that powerful conservative media organization was subject to several lawsuits from labor and public interest groups, and one criminal investigation into the CEO's son for embezzlement and breach of trust. Yoon's office refuses to confirm the allegation. The legal analyst made reference to a Chinese proverb, "When the crow flies, a pear falls."*

*烏飛梨落. 오비이락 When the crow flies a pear falls from the tree. A strange coincidence arouses suspicion. Naver.com

Is all this correlation of evidence proof of guilt? The analyst said that he felt the legal committee of senior lawyers Yoon had established to consider the evidence against prosecutor Han, and former reporter Lee, would probably avoid a hasty decision, and await the development of further evidence to confirm the circumstantial coincidences in the evidence thus far. The decision of the ad hoc committee to consider evidence in the case and then vote on whether the investigation should proceed or whether indictments should be preferred, is completely without authority in the view of the Ministry of Justice. Other observers have commented that it is a trick to allow the media and Prosecutor General to save face by trying the press prosecution collusion cases in the media. The investigating team of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office was granted the authority to conduct a completely independent investigation without interference from Prosecutor Yoon's office because of conflict of interest. Yoon continues to ignore Justice Minister Chu's orders.

South Korea's Prosecutor General "waves the white flag?"

(Source-YTN 뉴있저, 7.9.20) Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol v. Justice Minister Chu Mi-ae. Yoon finally raises the white flag; Chu regrets missing her chance. The graphic depicts the chronology of the showdown over the disputed investigation of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office into the so called press prosecution collusion scandal:

July 2: Minister Chu gives notice that investigative command powers are withdrawn (from Yoon).

July 8 (am): Minister Chu gives final notice to Prosecutor General Yoon- "your response is requested by tomorrow morning at 10:00.

July 8 (pm): Yoon submits a proposal for an independent investigation office. Chu rejects Yoon's compromise proposal

July 9 The Prosecutor General accedes to the Justice Ministers command.

In the immediate case under investigation, a senior prosecutor, Han Dong-hun, close to Prosecutor General Yoon, allegedly colluded with Channel A News reporter Lee Dong-jae, to support a prosecution for political purposes by soliciting false testimony. Prosecutor General Yoon has been interfering in the conduct of the investigation by the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office investigative team. He attempted to have a division of his office supervise the investigation and then diverted the investigation for consideration by a so called board of experts. Justice Minister Chu's actions to remove Yoon's influence over the investigation, were based on legal authority reported to have been put in place on January 28, 2020, by the former Justice Minister Cho Guk, who was working to implement the democratic party's legal reform measures promoted by the Moon administration. Yoon had no other apparent options left, other than compliance as he could have been fired for insubordination. Thus far, President Moon has refrained from directing Yoon's removal without a clear cut foundation in the law. YTN presented differing opinions on whether Minister Chu actually wanted to remove Yoon. Certainly, that involves a political as well legal calculation. Such may be forthcoming at a later date as the alleged improper activities of the prosecutor's offices, hopefully, will now be subjected to unimpeded scrutiny.

It is somewhat amusing to consider that in political circles some had discussed the possibility that Yoon allowed this protracted public dispute with the Justice Minister to serve as a platform for a future presidential candidacy. YTN analyst Lee Dong-hyung suggested his leadership has been weakened by the ongoing dispute. Yoon's position had been shaken despite his arrogant assertion recently that it takes a lot to move his one hundred kilogram plus body. This is almost as poorly formulated a strategy as those of Hwang Kyo-ahn and Na Kyung-won before the April 15 elections whose transparently confrontational and poorly considered tactics earned them and their party a disastrous outcome at the polls. Yoon's stubborn recalcitrance and insubordination have only earned more public distrust, as one speculates on his motives to interfere with the investigation of press-prosecution collusion. Yoon's motivation for not resigning at this point is regarded simply as pride and ambition by some observers. Alternately, he can remain as the point man for the right in the daily news cycle, and also attempt to indirectly influence outcomes as to the prosecutors from his inner circle who might be subject to investigation at some future point. Nevertheless, the YTN analyst contended that the issues underlying the power struggle between Yoon and Justice Minister Chu began as a partisan issue, and the ultimate results of the investigation will be viewed from the same partisan perspective. The right will criticize any unfavorable outcome as the result of political bias, and there will be continuing partisan resistance on the right to legal reform of the residual corrupt practices affecting the administration of justice in South Korea.

Battle for Control of South Korea's Justice System

South Korean Legal Crisis - Can Justice Minister Chu Mi-ae restrain Supreme Prosecutor Yoon Seok-yeol?

Currently, one method by which the flagging right wing in South Korea attempts to check the growing power of the left is through the power of the Supreme Prosecutor's Office.(1) The current chief prosecutor of South Korea, Yoon Seok-yeol, was appointed by democratic President Moon Jae-in, perhaps without having properly vetted the candidate.(2) President Moon at Yoon's investiture expressed a strong desire that Yoon exercise his office in an impartial and unbiased manner so that the public interest in justice would be well served. However, Yoon is a conservative. He openly supported Na Kyung-won, and Hwang Kyo-ahn, leaders of the right wing party in South Korea, in the last general election, which appeared somewhat inappropriate under the circumstances. The conservatives lost the April 15 election when the Democratic Party won an unprecedented landslide victory in the National Assembly. Both Na and Hwang lost their campaigns for seats in the 21st National Assembly.

Recently, investigative reporting revealed recent examples of political manipulation of the prosecution process to the detriment of the reputation of the administration of criminal justice in South Korea. A flagrant injustice in the spotlight in this regard was the prosecution of former Prime Minister Han Myeong-suk convicted of financial misconduct. There is considerable evidence her conviction was obtained by perjured witness testimony solicited by the prosecution. PM Han's unjust prosecution only recently came to light. She had already served her two year sentence in prison and been released.

The more recent case is that of Yoo Shi-min, a high profile figure on the left due to his prominent position as director of the No Mu-hyun foundation. In the latter case, a reporter for A Channel News, allegedly acting on behalf of the prosecution attempted to solicit perjured testimony against foundation director Yoo to facilitate prosecution for financial crimes. The offending reporter Lee Dong-jae, was reportedly fired by Channel A News on June 25. Three other Channel A employees allegedly implicated in the plan to one degree or another, received suspensions or reprimands. Channel A News is a subsidiary of the conservative Dong A Media group. Complaints were filed against Channel A's reporter, and against a senior prosecutor for his alleged involvement in the scheme to extort perjury for use at trial against Yoo. The accused prosecutor, Han Dong-hun, is allegedly very close to Supreme Prosecutor Yoon Seok-yeol. For shorthand purposes the episode is commonly referred to as the Channel A News case.

The Channel A case stands for a more generalized political corruption of the Chief Prosecutor's Office referred to as (unlawful) press- prosecution alliance.(3) The major conservative mainstream media giants, Dong A, Chosun, and Choongang media groups are allegedly the principal platforms for distributing false, prejudicial, or misleading inside information, from prosecutors conducting investigations to stigmatize targeted political rivals of the right. After creating a public uproar with inflammatory accusations, the prosecutions then are carried out employing evidence obtained by coercing witnesses who typically are already in jail or in prison after convictions for fraud, financial crimes and the like. False testimony is induced by threats against the prisoners or their family members, or promises of favoritism from the prosecution offices.

(Source- 뉴스썰TV, 4.27) Supreme Prosecutor Yoon Seok-yeol (right) greeting prosecutor Han Dong-hun, (far left).

The Channel A case initially had been referred to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office for investigation. Because the case involves alleged political manipulation by the Chief Prosecutor's Office, and the suspected involvement of Han Dong-hun, allegedly Yoon Seok-yeol's right hand man, Yoon immediately attempted to take supervisory control of the case. His first inclination was to put the Human Rights division of his office in control of the case. (Han protested he was being slandered). The Seoul Central District Senior Prosecutor and other prosecutors in that branch office are reportedly "outsiders" not loyal to Yoon. In June of this year, Yoon's next step was to recruit senior prosecutors and jurists as nominees, mostly related to his office in some way, to become members of a so called Board of Experts to review and consider the evidence in the case. Efforts by the subordinate Seoul Central District branch office to obtain a warrant of arrest for the Channel A reporter, or subpoena prosecutor Han were ignored. The case has became bogged down in a bureaucratic power struggle between the Minister of Justice Chu Mi-ae, and Supreme Prosecutor, Yoon Seok-yeol.

(Source- 뉴스반장 7.2 ) Current South Korean Minister of Justice Chu Mi-ae.

Inevitably, this case is linked with other major developments politically. The first is the successful passage of the prosecutorial reform fast track legislation before the end of the 20th National Assembly. The former Justice Minister Cho Guk, was a major proponent of that legislation promoted by the Blue House, President Moon, and the Democratic Party. One of the very purposes of the Review Board for Public Official Corruption was to preclude the unjustified pursuit of political prosecutions demonstrated in the Channel A case. It is not a coincidence then, that the Central Prosecutor's Office initiated charges against former Justice Minister's wife, professor Jung Kyeong-sim, for an assortment of financial crimes, fraud and influence peddling, as the legal reforms appeared on the horizon. Various accusations were also made concerning fraud in arranging her daughter's college admissions and academic credentials. The effort was intended to portray the former Justice Minister and the democrats in general as frauds and hypocrites that needed to be removed from office.

Ultimately, Justice Minister Cho was also indicted as a conspirator and forced by events to resign. He was also accused of abuse of power while in office. Some observers referred to Yoon's prosecution of the sitting Justice Minister and his spouse as a "coup d'etat." There are reports, regarded as a credible, that Yoon personally ordered Cho Guk's prosecution. Cho's wife, who was jailed on a warrant, is disabled and suffering from the sequalae of an auto accident. She was recently released from jail after six months pre-trial confinement when the judge would not issue another order for confinement. Her lengthy trial resulted July 1 in findings of not guilty on all the major financial crimes of which she was charged. This places her prosecution and that of Cho Guk in the same improper, unlawful and unjust context as the Channel A news case and the prosecution of former PM Han Myeong-suk. The disposition of some other charges involving attempted destruction of evidence, creation of false academic documents, and very thinly based technical charges against Minister Cho for acts while in office, are not clear at this point as the trials and litigation are ongoing. A distant relative of Cho Guk, Cho Beom-dong, was convicted of securities finance violations and received a four year sentence. A personal financial advisor to Prof. Jung received an eight month sentence for concealment of evidence, computer disc drives.

In any case, the outcome of the Cho related trials is not dispositive for Yoon or his former senior prosecutor Han. The faltering case just presents more grist for the public discontent with Yoon's way of doing business. It is the order issued today by the current Justice Minister Chu Mi-ae which is intended to remove Yoon's authority or that of anyone in his office to interfere with the investigation of the Channel A News scandal. The Justice Minister has elevated the status of the chief of the investigation team at the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office to an independent investigator and the Supreme Prosecutor will only get a report when the investigation is complete. The second major element of the Justice Minister's command to Yoon Seok-yeol is to adjourn the so called expert's group to evaluate evidence collected in the case. According to the brief accompanying the order, the recruitment and selection process of this group from within the Chief Prosecutors Office, was not in accordance with legal regulations, was conducted arbitrarily, and did not warrant the public trust under the circumstances. Additionally, it wasn't appropriate in light of the existing jurisdiction of the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office for the Supreme Prosecutors Office to conduct a parallel investigation, organize the so called "experts group" or meetings among chief prosecutors designed to affect the outcome of the investigation in light of the Supreme Prosecutor's Office close relationship to the subject of the investigation. In essence, can the Supreme Prosecutor's Office investigate itself? Can it investigate the actions of prosecutors known to be a part of the Supreme Prosecutor's inner circle? Can it select impartial investigators from its own ranks? The answer is clearly no. Public trust and confidence in the Surpreme Prosecutor's office is nonexistent at this point.

It remains to be seen what further obstructions Yoon and Han can place in the path of a credible and effective investigation into these matters which has as its ultimate object restoration of public faith in the offices of prosecutors throughout South Korea, and the administration of justice free from political bias. Some analyst's are anticpating a resignation at some point from Yoon. But if he resigns, he will no longer be in a position to create roadblocks to the investigation, and the relationship of mutual support with Han may be placed in jeopardy.

1)It is probably preferable to translate the position as Director of the Chief Prosecutors Office or Prosecutor General. In light of the excessive power demonstrated by the office over the years, the blog opted for the term Supreme Prosecutor, which political pundits have indicated is a customary practice [ 검찰총장 v. 검찰창장 ] that should be left behind. 추다르크 수사지휘권 발동! 윤석열총장 떨고있나?; @8:35 시사건건 downloaded from youtube 7.2.20.

(2) Prosecutor Yoon's reputation for integrity is somewhat tainted by association with allegations of fraud by his mother in law and spouse in past business translations. Critics in South Korea contend that their ability to get away with past financial crimes rested on trading on Yoon's status as a senior prosecutor. These past alleged transgressions have been rendered moot, for the most part, by the statute of limitations.

(3) ( 언찰유착 ) press prosecution collusion.


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