Court finds Roh Hoe-chan not guilty in “Samsung X-file” disclosure case: Prosecutors are chastised for failing to investigate Joongang Ilbo Chairman Hong Seok-hyun and former Samsung official Lee Hak-soo over bribery allegations
Dec. 5, 2009
The Eighth Criminal Appeals Division of Seoul Central District Court found Roh Hoe-chan, the 53-year old Chairperson of the New Progressive Party (NPP), who disclosed the contents of the so-called Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP) (currently called the National Intelligence Service (NIS)) “Samsung X-file” containing information about the payment of illegal funds by the Samsung Group, not guilty in his appeal trial. In particular, the Court chastised prosecutors for prosecuting Roh, the one who disclosed the material, without adequately investigating Joongang Ilbo Chairman Hong Seok-hyun, age 60, and former Samsung Chief Restructuring Planner Lee Hak-soo, age 63.
The “Samsung X-file” refers to some of the estimated 8,000 tapes that were recorded by the Agency for National Security Planning while illegally eavesdropping on numerous influential figures from 1993 through 1998. In the “Samsung X-file,” briefly reported on by MBC, Hong Seok-hyun and Lee Hak-soo discussed the amount given in bribes to senior prosecutors.
Judge Lee Min-yeong issued a not-guilty verdict Friday for Roh, who had been prosecuted on charges of defamation against former Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office head Ahn Kang-min by disclosing the contents of conversations recorded through wiretapping by the ANSP, the predecessor of the current National Intelligence Service. In Roh’s first trial in February, he had been sentenced to six months in jail suspended for two years and his license was suspended for one year.
In reference to charges that Roh defamed Ahn by circulating false information, the Court during the appeal trial ruled that because it was evident that the district prosecutors’ office head referred to by Hong in the recorded conversation as the recipient of money and items was Ahn Kang-min, and mentioning his real name did not constitute an utterance of false information. The Court said the conclusion was both rational and a natural assumption to make.
Additionally, the Court dismissed charges that Roh violated the Electronic Communication Privacy Act by disclosing illegally recorded content. The Court ruled, “When the content of the testimony is distributed prior to a National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee meeting for the sake of reporting expediency it is subject to liability exemption privileges as an act attendant to speaking in terms of the duties of a National Assembly member.” Regarding the posting of a news release on an Internet web site, the Court ruled that Roh was not guilty as this was a “legitimate act” as defined by the penal code. The Court also said, “Since the content of the recording involves a systematic plan to provide prosecutors with money and items by Samsung, the largest conglomerate, the posting can viewed as in line with legitimate goals, e.g., urging an investigation.”
In addition to its ruling, the Court also openly rebuked the prosecutors for a sloppy investigation, and specifically for dismissing concrete allegations as false information. The Court said “any person who possessed an ordinary and rational intellect would naturally make the strong assumption that the money was paid according to the content of the conversation.”
The Court added, “While the prosecutors lack proof that the content of the recording is false, they persist in their failure to investigate either Mr. Lee Hak-soo or Mr. Hong Seok-hyun.”
Immediately after the ruling, Roh said that it was a “historic ruling that said we must dig further into the ‘Samsung X-file’ incident and punish the guilty parties.” Meanwhile, prosecutors indicated that they would be appealing to the Supreme Court, and called the ruling “a clear misunderstanding of legal principles.”
The X-file that sparked the incident, the recording of a Sept. 1997 conversation between Lee Hak-soo, then-chief of the staff of the Samsung Group chairman’s office, and JoongAng Ilbo Chairman Hong Seok-hyun, includes specific amounts of bribe money that were to be given by Samsung to prosecutors prior the Chuseok holiday. Based on this recording, Roh, who was then-lawmaker for the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), made the disclosure on Aug. 18, 2005 that “basic bribe money” had been paid to the vice justice minister, Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office head and Seoul High Prosecutor’s Office deputy director at the time along with “basic bribe money plus five million Won” to a Supreme Prosecutor’s Office senior prosecutor, two payments of 20 million Won and 30 million Won over two years to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office chief prosecutor, and bribe money to junior prosecutors by way of the chief prosecutor. Roh also gave the real names of seven current and former prosecutors.
After the list was disclosed, there was a public outcry to locate and punish the “Samsung scholarship students” within the prosecutors’ ranks, but the prosecutors cleared Samsung and all of the implicated prosecutors stating that the statute of limitations had expired. In Nov. 2007, the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice and Attorney Kim Yong-cheol released a list of bribe recipients that presented more details about the content, but the Samsung special prosecutor also concluded that no charges would be filed.
While they declined to press charges against the individuals at the center of the incident, prosecutors did indict Roh without detention in May 2007 on charges of defamation. Previously, MBC journalist Lee Sang-ho, who reported on the X-file, was prosecuted on the same charges.
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