What They Said is a weekly series on the quotes behind the headlines.
School bullying (hakgyo pongnyeok, or hakpok for short) has become a hot topic this year in South Korea, owing to the popularity of the Netflix series The Glory, which tells the story of a woman who devises an elaborate scheme to exact revenge on her high school bullies.
In recent years, more and more victims of school violence have come forward online to accuse their former bullies, particularly in cases where the bullies are now celebrities. It began in sports, with various star athletes being accused of bullying fellow athletes back when they were still in elementary, middle, or high school. Then it swept the entertainment industry, involving mainly rising young singers and actors. Some apologized, some left the industry, and others fought back against the accusations, which led to lawsuits that are still ongoing for some. And with the popularity of The Glory, it seems that the general public has become much more aware of the pain of the victims.
That is perhaps why people were so enraged when, on February 24, KBS News reported that Jung Sun-shin, the newly appointed head of the National Office of Investigation, which oversees police investigations, has a son who was involved in bullying in high school.
Jung was already a controversial appointee for the position because of his background in the prosecution service. During his time there, Jung was a colleague of both the current justice minister and the current president, and his appointment is seen by many as a way of returning oversight of the police to the prosecution service. (In 2021, the police gained the power to conduct independent investigations, after decades of power struggles.)
On February 25, Chun Haram, a National Assembly member for the People Power Party and currently a candidate for the party leadership, called for Jung’s resignation:
“Jung Sun-shin, the new head of the National Office of Investigation, should resign.
His son’s bullying incident is inappropriate in itself, but the fact that he filed several lawsuits to fight the school committee’s decision and lost them all is an even bigger problem. It appears that he used his status as a prosecutor-turned-lawyer to help his son avoid the punishment he deserved. In the case of former National Assembly member Kwak Sang-do and former minister Cho Kuk, the nightmare of ‘daddy chance’, which gave the people a sense of being deprived, has surfaced again.
Judging from my experience as a member of an independent committee for school violence countermeasures, I believe that the level of verbal abuse would have to have been very severe to warrant a school transfer, and to lose not only the first trial but also the appeal and the final trial in the Supreme Court. In fact, his victim still has serious scars from the incident.
Is such a person really qualified to direct and supervise the police investigations of the Republic of Korea?
If Director Jung truly intends to do his best to help the victim recover from the trauma, the first thing he should do is to give up his post and sincerely apologize to the victimized student and the public.
This issue is also a serious one that concerns the people’s trust.
It has even been reported that Jung’s son has made remarks such as ‘My father knows a lot of people’ and ‘If you are friends with the judge, you win the case no matter what.’
These are statements that are far from what people expect. It can only be viewed as a distorted sense of privilege. If this problem was revealed during the personnel verification process, Jung should never have been appointed.
Because the appointee was a former prosecutor whom the president trusted, we need to look at whether the sword of verification has become dull. We cannot allow the people’s trust in the personnel verification system and in the administration’s ‘fairness and common sense’ to collapse.
Since we promised ‘fairness and common sense’, we must be more strict about our own unfairness and lack of common sense.
As it is a question of public trust in our government and party, I urge [party leader] candidates Kim Ki-hyun, Ahn Cheol-soo, and Hwang Kyo-ahn to clarify their positions.
— Chun Haram, National Assembly member for the People Power Party, February 25, 2023
Lee Jung-mi, the leader of the Justice Party, also objected to Jung’s appointment:
“President Yoon Suk Yeol appointed former chief prosecutor Jung Sun-shin as head of the National Office of Investigation (NOI).
The NOI was established, in the process of adjusting the investigative powers of the police and prosecutors, to abolish the prosecutor’s direct right to command investigations and to enhance the professionalism and fairness of police investigations.
However, the president has now appointed a former prosecutor to the NOI and has them leading even the police command.
This is an appointment that mocks the independence of police investigations. It’s a heart-wrenching appointment for front-line police officers across the country.
But, this is not the only problem.
Prosecutor Jung Sun-shin represented Kim Man-bae, a key figure in the Daejang-dong scandal. He also was entangled in the controversy over the so-called ‘money envelope dinner’ after the dismissal of the arrest warrant for Woo Byung-woo during Park Geun-hye’s impeachment.
And yesterday, another shocking fact came to light.
The bullying perpetrated by Jung Sun-shin’s son, who continued to abuse his victim by saying that he would win trials because his father was in the legal profession, is a problem in itself, but what is even more horrifying is that Jung used his power in the legal system to defend his son.
Refusing to agree to his son’s transfer, which had been decided on to protect the victim, he used all his expertise and connections in the legal profession to respond to the incident, from filing appeals for retrial, to administrative lawsuits, and applications for suspension of execution of the transfer. In the meantime, the victim attempted suicide.
In short, it is the real-world version of The Glory.
President Yoon’s appointment, trying to control all power with elite prosecutors, has gone too far. I wonder if the prosecution powers are reviving the rotten caste system.
[Jung] is not suitable, considering the nature of the position, and he is not qualified to exercise command of the investigations himself.
The Justice Party resolutely opposes the appointment of Jung Sun-shin as Director of the National Office of Investigation.”
— Lee Jung-mi, leader of the Justice Party, February 25, 2023
Jung resigned that same day—he had been due to begin his appointment on the following day, as the previous director’s term ended on February 25.
In a statement, he said:
“First of all, I apologize for the problem caused by my son, and my family and I ask for forgiveness from the victim and his parents once again.
The final goal of an investigation is a conviction. Investigative personnel with trial experience are essential for that from the initial investigation stage. Therefore, based on my experience with investigations and trials, I applied for the position of the head of the National Office of Investigation, in order to contribute to the development of investigations in the country.
However, a situation arose where people became worried about the problem involving my son, and I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t possibly fulfill the important responsibility of being the head of the National Office of Investigation with these flaws.
I withdraw my application to be head of the National Office of Investigation.
All of my family will forever reflect on our wrongdoing.”
— Jung Sun-shin, appointee for the position of the Director of the National Office of Investigation, February 25, 2023
The statement itself also revealed the dangerous idea that Jung had about how the “final goal of an investigation is a conviction”. Ideally, the final goal of an investigation should be to find the truth of what happened.
The Office of the President accepted his resignation and expressed regret in not having had knowledge of the issue—despite the bullying case having made the news in 2018.
Ann Gwiryeong, the vice spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Korea, also spoke out about Jung’s resignation:
“It is only right that former prosecutor Jung Sun-shin, who was appointed head of the National Office of Investigation, tendered his resignation.
Former prosecutor Jung Sun-shin is not just the father of a student who bullied a fellow student, but also a perpetrator who pushed the victim into an extreme situation through lawsuits.
In that respect, it is absurd sophistry for the People Power Party to mention the guilt-by-association system to defend him. Is the People Power Party wishing to become the perpetrator as well?
The expression of resignation does not mean that former prosecutor Jung Sun-shin and his son’s acts of abuse will disappear. Former prosecutor Jung Sun-shin and his son should sincerely apologize to the victim.
If the People Power Party is not intending to advocate school violence, apologize immediately to the victim and to the people.
I can’t even count the number of personnel disasters [in this administration]. I hope President Yoon Suk Yeol apologizes for these repeated personnel disasters and reprimands those in charge of the personnel verification process.”
— Ann Gwiryeong, vice spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Korea, February 25, 2023