Published : 2013-02-12 20:35
Updated : 2013-02-12 20:35
It’s not just corrupt prosecutors who make a mockery of the nation’s legal system. Corrupt judges do so as well.
The latest example is a judge in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, who granted bail to an unscrupulous university founder charged with embezzling 104 billion won from the 10 schools under his control.
According to reports, the judge released Lee Hong-ha, chairman of Seonam University in Namwon, North Jeolla Province, and three other people who helped him, on health grounds Friday, saying there was no likelihood of them destroying evidence.
Lee, 74, was arrested in December and reportedly applied for bail claiming that he needed to undergo heart stent surgery.
But critics, including the university’s professors, denounced the judge’s decision, saying that Lee had no heart problems. As evidence, they cited the CCTV footage of the detention center showing Lee steadily doing an exercise that a heart patient should avoid ― push-ups.
Even if Lee did have heart problems, they said, a stent operation could hardly justify the bail decision because a week of hospitalization would be enough for it. A more reasonable decision in this case, they argued, would be to suspend Lee’s arrest for the operation period rather than releasing him on bail.
Furthermore, they refuted the judge’s claim that there was no risk of the suspects destroying evidence by pointing out that Lee attempted to tamper with evidence even after the arrest.
Legal experts say the bail is extraordinary, given that suspects charged with embezzlement are normally not granted bail unless they recoup the losses they have incurred.
Lying behind the judge’s bizarre decision is cronyism. He is reported to be a friend of Lee’s son-in-law, who is also a judge in the Seoul Appellate Court. The two hail from the same region and passed the bar exam in the same year.
It is not the first time for Lee, who is referred to as big evil by his critics, to be indicted on charges of embezzlement. In 1998, he was convicted of misappropriating school funds amounting to 40.9 billion won.
The final verdict for him at the time was a suspended jail sentence of two years. Two months later, however, Lee was granted amnesty. His alleged savior was the then minister of justice, who was his elementary school classmate.
A judge’s duty is to mete out punishment to people who break the law. A judge who fails to fulfill this duty no longer deserves the title. The Supreme Court needs to warn judges who erode public trust in the judiciary.