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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 14)

07:11 January 14, 2019

No more lame excuses
Ex-chief justice should admit his role in power abuse

Prosecutors summoned former Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae, Friday, and questioned him over an abuse of power scandal. He has become the first ex-head of the Supreme Court to be criminally investigated. This has left an indelible mark on Korea's constitutional history ― arguably a shameful one.

Yang, after retiring in September 2017, is now a criminal suspect. This alone is a disgrace not only for him but also the judiciary and the country as a whole. He is entitled to enjoy the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; yet, in all probability he has to face arrest and multiple criminal charges for what he did during six years at the helm of the top court.

It is more disappointing that he has continued to deny his alleged deep involvement in the scandal to avoid any responsibility. He even provoked the ire of the pubic by making a statement before the media in front of the Supreme Court, instead of at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul when he was summoned. This behavior was seen as arrogant. If he still insists on the special privilege of being a former chief justice, he is wrong.

Yang should cooperate with the prosecution's investigation and try to shed light on the power abuse case. He should no longer try to give only lame excuses to justify his actions. He needs to remember Article 103 of the Constitution that stipulates that judges shall rule independently according to their conscience and in conformity with the Constitution and laws.

Much evidence and many circumstance have so far indicated that what Yang did was apparently against constitutional values and obligations. He should realize that he undermined the judiciary's political neutrality and independence, weakening the rule of law ― the basis of a functioning democracy.

Yang may face more than 40 charges, including abuse of power and leaking state secrets. Most of all, he allegedly tried to use politically sensitive trials to curry favor with Cheong Wa Dae under then-President Park Geun-hye. The Supreme Court under his leadership was found to have used such trials as bargaining chips in dealing with the presidential office in an unsuccessful bid to create a second separate court of appeals.

According to investigators, Yang allegedly delayed the deliberation of a damage suit filed by Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labor to please the former president who wanted friendlier ties with Tokyo. He seemed to seek favor with Park by turning a deaf ear to the victims.

Yang faces further allegations of instructing officials at the National Court Administration, the top court's governing body, to work out ways of interfering in trials to make rulings in Park's favor. He was also allegedly implicated in having secretly monitored judges critical of the court administration and the conservative government.

Now the prosecution should conduct a fair and thorough investigation to get to the bottom of the scandal. The Moon Jae-in administration must speed up reform to turn the judiciary into the last bulwark of justice that can serve the people better.
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