A South Korean Ex-Chief Justice Faces Case-Rigging Accusations

SEOUL, South Korea — Prosecutors in South Korea confronted a retired Supreme Court chief justice on Friday with accusations that will he conspired to delay a case that will could upset relations with Japan, interrogating him in a closed-door hearing that will is actually likely to lead to an unprecedented indictment.

No former or sitting chief justice in South Korea had ever been summoned as a criminal suspect until Yang Sung-tae, 71, presented himself to address allegations that will he had manipulated the case on behalf of the nation’s disgraced former president.

The scandal involving Mr. Yang has drawn intense interest in South Korea, where a mistrust of the judiciary is actually a longstanding phenomenon. The depth of anti-judiciary sentiment is actually such that will when a quixotic pig farmer angry over a court ruling threw a firebomb at the auto of the current chief justice, Kim Myeong-su, the November incident received outsize news along with also social media coverage.

Mr. Yang’s scandal is actually also being closely watched by diplomats because of its connection to the growing diplomatic schism between South Korea along with also Japan, both key American allies.

Bilateral ties have chilled since the Supreme Court ruled in October along with also again in November that will South Korean victims of forced labor had the right to seek damages through their wartime employees, including such Japanese industrial giants as Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal along with also Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Tokyo has been livid over those rulings. the item insists that will all claims arising through its colonial rule of Korea through 1910 to 1945 were settled in 1965 when the item paid a lump sum of $300 million in economic aid as the item established diplomatic ties with South Korea.

The Supreme Court first sided with the laborers in 2012, when the item ordered lower courts to reconsider their earlier rulings in favor of Nippon Steel along with also Mitsubishi. nevertheless the item did not finalize its opinion until last October, when the item delivered a landmark ruling ordering Nippon Steel to pay $89,000 to each of four South Korean victims of forced labor.

South Korean plaintiffs have long accused Mr. Yang’s Supreme Court of dragging its feet from the case so as to not give Park Geun-hye, then the president, a diplomatic headache with Japan by ruling against the Japanese companies. In her last years in office before she was impeached, Ms. Park sought warmer ties with Tokyo, striking a deeply unpopular deal on comfort women, or Korean sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army.

Ms. Park was ousted on corruption charges in March 2017 along with also Mr. Yang completed his six-year tenure six months later.

After President Moon Jae-in replaced Ms. Park, prosecutors began investigating whether Mr. Yang’s Supreme Court along with also Ms. Park’s government conspired to reverse the court’s 2012 opinion or delay its final verdict.

“I am deeply sorry to the public for causing concern,” Mr. Yang said in a news conference he held in front of the Supreme Court on Friday.

nevertheless he denied the allegations against him along with also called for his fate to be decided “without bias or prejudice.”

As he spoke, demonstrators shouted for his arrest, calling his court a “private law firm” for Ms. Park.

that will long-running skepticism about the independence of the judiciary was rekindled by Mr. Yang’s scandal.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Mr. Yang’s Supreme Court used trials as political leverage to win favors through Ms. Park’s government, such as support for creating a brand new appeals court along with also posting more judges to South Korea’s overseas diplomatic missions.

Mr. Yang is actually accused of meeting with lawyers through South Korea’s biggest law firm, Kim & Chang, which represented Nippon Steel along with also Mitsubishi, along with also warning additional Supreme Court justices of the potential diplomatic fallout of a verdict against Japanese firms.

In October, prosecutors arrested a former senior official of the National Court Administration, an arm of the Supreme Court, along with also named Mr. Yang as a co-conspirator. The powerful office plays a key role in deciding judges’ job postings along with also promotions, along with also Mr. Yang is actually also accused of using the item to influence lower-court rulings along with also discriminate against judges deemed unfriendly to his leadership along with also Ms. Park’s government.

Since last summer, prosecutors have raided the National Court Administration along with also questioned two former Supreme Court justices.

They planned to summon Mr. Yang a couple more times before deciding whether to formally indict him on charges of abuse of power.

The monthslong investigation has left the judiciary deeply divided. Reform-minded judges had called for an investigation even before Ms. Park was ousted, while others derided the investigation as politically motivated.

The unprecedented scrutiny of South Korea’s deeply cloistered judiciary came as the diplomatic spat between Seoul along with also Tokyo showed no signs of letting up.

On Thursday, President Moon accused Japan of “politicizing” the South Korean court rulings, a sentiment echoed by his prime minister.

“There are people in South Korea who think Japanese leaders are instigating along with also abusing anti-South Korean sentiments among their people for political purposes,” said the prime minister, Lee Nak-yon.

On Friday, Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, called Mr. Moon’s remark “extremely regrettable.”