OPINION

[Editorial] Independent probe needed

By Korea Herald

Suspect’s court testimony, news on document raises questions about fund scam investigations

  • Published : Oct 15, 2020 - 05:30
  • Updated : Oct 15, 2020 - 05:30

Suspicions around two fraudulent investment funds are spreading to the presidential office and the ruling party.

The prosecution’s investigation into the scandals recently moved into the spotlight again with the testimony of Kim Bong-hyun, the former Star Mobility chairman believed to be the main financial source for Lime Asset Management Co. He is a key suspect in the Lime fund investment scam estimated to have cost 4,000 investors about 1.5 trillion won ($1.3 billion).

Kim testified as a witness in the Oct. 8 trial of another suspect, Lee Kang-se, chief executive of Star Mobility and former MBC Gwangju president, to the effect that he handed 50 million won in 50,000 won bills to Lee on July 27 last year because Lee told him he could deliver it to Kang Gi-jung, then senior presidential secretary for political affairs.

The prosecution reportedly confirmed CCTV footage of Lee receiving the shopping bag full of cash from Kim in a Seoul hotel.

A day later, on July 28 last year, a Sunday, Lee met with Kang at the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae. However, Lee denied that he delivered the money to Kang. As news of Kim’s testimony broke out, Kang denied having accepted the money, and also filed libel and perjury complaints against Kim. Eyes are on who was telling a lie.

Kim testified against himself in court. Kim is in detention after being indicted. Would he say what he did if he had no gripe with the prosecution’s investigation? Before appearing in court, he reportedly made such remarks to investigators, but the South District Prosecutors’ Office did not include them in its interrogation report. It did not report the bombshell statement to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, either. Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol is said to have first learned of the testimony through news media. It is worth asking if the prosecutors’ office tried to downplay the case.

Another investment fraud case came to public attention again with news reports about an internal document allegedly prepared by Optimus Asset Management CEO Kim Jae-hyun. The Optimus fund fiasco led to 500 billion won in losses for more than 1,000 investors.

The names of five Cheong Wa Dae and seven or eight Democratic Party figures are said to be recorded in the document. They are described as persons involved in fund-related troubles or proceeds.

In late June, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office secured the document by searching the office of Optimus. But there are few traces of the prosecutors’ office investigating the figures mentioned in the document.

Lee Sung-yoon, chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, assigned the Optimus case unusually to a department dealing with ordinary complaints, not to a department probing corruption allegations. As late as last month he reassigned it to a department investigating economic crimes. As in the Lime fund case, Yoon was reportedly in the dark about the document until recently.

The fund operator’s founder, Lee Hyuk-jin, fled the country in March. Prosecutors failed to ban him from leaving the country, which is unusual for a person suspected of tax evasion and embezzlement.

Through several reshuffles, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae replaced prosecutors experienced in anti-corruption investigations with prosecutors having little experience in the field. In a parliamentary audit of the ministry Tuesday, she called the document in question a falsehood. In effect, she told prosecutors to beat around the bush. If the prosecution keeps investigating passively, the scandals may be closed without a thorough examination.

Yoon instructed the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office to beef up the team investigating the Optimus case. The instruction is seen as a show of his anger and irritation at the team’s pretense of carrying on a probe while trying to avoid offending Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party.

What matters more than the reinforcement of the team is to exclude Lee and prosecutors loyal to him from the investigation. As long as they command the investigation, the outcome of their probe is obvious. They will likely try to cover up the cases.

Suspicions surrounding the Lime and Optimus fund scams can be clarified completely through an independent investigation. Only when an independent organization investigates can people trust the results.