Lee Myung-bak Probe to Start Jan. 15
The Constitutional Court gave the green light Thursday to a special investigation of President-elect Lee Myung-bak over his alleged involvement in a financial fraud case. The 40-day special probe will start Jan. 15.
In a nationally televised ruling, Lee Kang-kook, president of the Constitutional Court, said that most clauses of the Special Prosecutor Law were in accordance with the Constitution. However, he said the one dealing with the summons of individuals without warrants was unconstitutional, which will limit the scope of the investigation.
The ruling came after a petition was filed last month by Lee's relatives who sought an injunction against the law after special prosecutor Chung Ho-young was appointed to investigate his alleged role in stock price rigging by a former business partner, Kim Kyung-joon.
The petitioners claimed the law, which targets a specific individual, was unconstitutional because it was beyond the legislative power banning the establishment of a law dealing with a specific individual. The court said that such a law targeting a specific person was permissible when the targeting was justifiable.
The petitioners also claimed that the Supreme Court head's nomination of a special prosecutor violated the principle of the separation of power between the judiciary and the prosecution. But the Constitutional Court said it was the President who appointed the prosecutor, although the chief justice recommended the candidates.
Chung, a former chief of the Seoul High Court, was picked by President Roh Moo-hyun as the special prosecutor to lead the first-ever probe into the country's next leader.
The court also acknowledged that the law did not violate the ``innocent until proven guilty'' principle. Regarding the time limitation for the case, the court said it was designed to resolve suspicions as soon as possible and not to prevent a fair trial.
Although the court approved of the investigation, it may finish with few new facts besides those previously revealed by the prosecution, as the clause of unwarranted summons was ruled unconstitutional.
If key figures of the scandal refuse to appear, the independent counsel will have no means to question them.
It is also to be seen whether the counsel will summon Lee. The prosecution earlier did not summon him but cleared him of all suspicions after taking a written statement.
Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Cheon Ho-seon said the presidential office respects the ruling. ``We hope the special probe will be completed on schedule without hitch so that public suspicion will be fully cleared away,'' he said.
The United New Democratic Party (UNDP), which initiated the law, expressed regret.
UNDP spokesman Lee Nak-yon said, ``We worry the situation in which a variety of allegations will still remain uncovered due to possible difficulties in the investigation.'' But he said the party accepts the ruling, expecting that the special prosecutor will bring to light all suspicions.
The Grand National Party (GNP) called the decision ``regretful,'' but that the ``truth (Lee's innocence) will be proved through the probe,'' according to GNP spokeswoman Na Kyung-won.