The prosecution indicted Yang Sung-tae, former Supreme Court chief justice, Monday on charges he abused his power to influence politically significant trials and disadvantage justices critical of him.
Ending an eight-month investigation, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office filed 47 charges against Yang, including abuse of power and dereliction of duty for approving or orchestrating the use of trials in backdoor deals with the previous Park Geun-hye administration.
In a dramatic fall from grace, the veteran judge with a career spanning more than four decades, who is now in custody, became the first former or incumbent Supreme Court chief justice to be arrested and indicted in the judiciary’s 71-year history.
The prosecution also brought charges against Park Byong-dae and Ko Young-han without detention -- both retired Supreme Court Justices and former heads of the National Court Administration -- for their roles in implementing Yang’s order. Park and Ko were indicted on 33 and 18 charges, respectively.
Yang, 71, who headed the country’s top court from 2011 to September 2017, was accused of pressuring judges to deliver verdicts in the Park administration’s favor and penalizing those who criticized his management of the court. Some 31 judges were blacklisted for “creating a stir.”
In return, Yang sought to secure support from the Park administration to dispatch more justices at South Korea’s embassies abroad and to establish a separate court of appeals, according to the prosecution.
One of the high-profile cases Yang is suspected of having influenced was a damages suit filed by Korean victims forced to work for Japanese companies during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
Yang is suspected of having ordered senior officials at the NCA, the top court’s administrative body, to find ways to delay court proceedings for the case, mindful of the Park administration’s wishes to mend ties with Japan.
On Yang’s watch, the Supreme Court also allegedly collected inside intelligence from the Constitutional Court to keep it in check, covered up irregularities involving judges and interfered with the trial of Won Sei-hoon, a former spy chief accused of leading an online campaign to help then-presidential candidate Park Geun-hye win the 2012 election.
Yang has denied the accusations.
Some 100 former and incumbent judges are suspected of being involved in the power abuse allegations. The prosecution plans to decide who to file charges against.
Former deputy NCA head Lim Jong-hun was indicted earlier for his involvement in the case. The prosecution on Monday added a new charge against him, accusing him of abusing his power to disadvantage judges critical of Yang in personnel transfers.
Prosecutors also named in the indictment some former and incumbent lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and main opposition Liberty Korea Party as soliciting favors in trials involving them.
Prosecutors plan to decide whether to take legal action against the lawmakers after they see whether the judges suspected of conspiring with the lawmakers are indicted.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org