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The fate of `sandglass prosecutors`

Posted June. 04, 2011 04:54,   


“There is no sandglass prosecutor. Only prosecutors who probed the slot machine scandal exist.” This is what Hong Joon-pyo, a supreme council member of the ruling Grand National Party, said when he was called a sandglass prosecutor. “Sandglass” was a hugely popular SBS drama that began to air in early 1995. Actor Park Sang-won played the part of incorruptible prosecutor Kang Woo-seok; Choi Min-soo played gangster Park Tae-soo; and actress Koh Hyun-jung played Yoon Hye-rin, a daughter of a conglomerate owner. The character Kang was based on Hong, who led an investigation into a slot machine scandal in 1993. After the investigation, SBS producer Kim Jong-hak and scriptwriter Song Ji-na asked for Hong`s advice on their new drama about prosecutors. Hong told them about his background and previous cases.

Upon inauguration of the Kim Young-sam administration, sweeping inspections of public officials were conducted. Prosecutors in the violent crime department at the Seoul District Public Prosecutors’ Office, including Hong, investigated Jeong Deok-il, a bigwig in the slot machine industry, and discovered connections between Jeong and organized crime that protected Jeong, politicians and prosecutors. Indicted for involvement in the scandal were Park Cheol-eon, a powerful figure under the former Roh Tae-woo government; Uom Sam-tak, former head of the planning department of the National Security Planning Agency (now the National Intelligence Service); and Lee Geon-gae, former head of the Daejeon Public Prosecutors’ Office. Yet Hong at the time never flinched under pressure from senior prosecutors.

The violent crime department at the Seoul prosecutors` office had two teams at the time, one for organized crime and the other for narcotics. Hong and prosecutor Kim Hong-il of the narcotics team led the probe into the slot machine scandal. Prosecutor Jeong Seon-tae helped them organize investigative documents though he was on the organized crime team. The three incumbent and former prosecutors still gather together for drinks from time to time. Eun Jin-soo, a former inspection commissioner at the Board of Audit and Inspection who was arrested for his involvement in the scandal surrounding the now-suspended Busan Savings Bank, occasionally joined their get-togethers as a junior prosecutor. Though Eun was not in the violent crime department, he helped the investigation as a certified accountant to track bank accounts.

Because of the investigation, Hong took unimportant posts and left the prosecutors` office because he lost favor with senior prosecutors. In 1996, he became a lawmaker. On the other hand, Kim Hong-il took over the central investigation team of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. Jeong Tae-seon was demoted in 2006 and worked at the Seoul Public Prosecutors’ Office, but was appointed head of the Government Legislation Ministry by President Lee Myung-bak. After leaving the prosecutors` office in 2004, Eun joined the ruling Grand National Party and was appointed an inspection commissioner. The relationship of the so-called sandglass prosecutors turned sour due to the savings bank scandal. Kim indicted Eun for taking bribes from a broker close to Busan Savings Bank and will summon Jeong for questioning. It is shameful to see the collapse of prosecutors who once fought major crimes and corruption.

Editorial Writer Song Pyeong-in (pisong@donga.com)