Justice ministry toughens stance against info leaks of ongoing cases to media

SEOUL-- The Ministry of Justice announced a series of measures to reform "inappropriate" investigative practices by prosecutors Wednesday, with a focus on banning the unauthorized disclosure of information on ongoing probes to media.

The ministry, among other things, specified conditions for the publication of allegations in criminal cases, in an effort to prevent investigators from revealing information about ongoing cases that could result in false reporting and human rights violations.

Assuming there is "ample evidence" that news reporting about a certain case carries wrong information, investigators are allowed to publicly speak about it to correct falsehoods.

Also, information about cases related to financial scams, digital sex crimes, terrorist attacks and infectious diseases can be also made public for public interest.

Human rights investigators at each district prosecutors office nationwide will handle violations of the new rules and can ask for a formal investigation, if necessary.

"The ministry will not let anyone who is not a public relations officer reveal essential information about an ongoing investigation," Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said during a briefing, adding the ministry "will strongly punish malicious leaks" of confidential information.

The announcement came less than four months after the minister ordered the ministry to review questionable investigative practices, jointly with the Supreme Prosecutors Office (SPO).

In March, the country's high-ranking prosecutors met at the order of the minister to conduct a review of allegations that investigators had forced some prison inmates to make false testimonies against former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook in 2011. After hours of deliberation, senior prosecutors decided to clear them of perjury charges.

Park, at that time, expressed dismay over the prosecution's decision to close the alleged perjury case and denounced the leakage to media of the closed-door discussions.

Han, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, was imprisoned from 2015-2017 after being convicted of accepting about 900 million won (US$795,000) in illegal political funds from a late businessman while in office.

Last year, allegations surfaced that prosecutors had forced the late businessman's fellow inmates to give false testimony against Han during her trial in 2011 to win her conviction.

During the briefing, the minister said the four-month review revealed there were problematic investigative practices, such as having prosecution witnesses practice their testimonies.

The ministry demanded prosecutors minimize meetings with their witnesses and record conversations and interviews with them.

"The joint review was not aimed at punishing anyone," the minister said, adding, "The prosecution will take this opportunity to break with wrong practices of the past and move forward to a new overhauled organization."

Source: Yonhap News Agency