Graph: Number of raid warrants issued per year. Credit: Judiciary of the Republic of Korea.
Prosecutorial raids have become a hallmark of the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration, which after all is headed by a former Supreme Prosecutor 검찰총장. According to a recent study by South Korea’s judiciary, the increase in the number of raids is not an illusory effect of frequent media coverage. In 2002, the court issued approximately 35k warrants for raids; by 2022, the number had increased more than tenfold to more than 358k. The number of raids more than tripled over the last decade, as 2012 saw approximately 107k raid warrants issued.
With dozens of investigators overturning one’s residence while a gaggle of inquisitive press gathers outside, raids can be devastating psychological attacks. In a famous example, former Justice Minister Cho Kuk 조국 전 법무부장관 and his family faced over 70 raids in a single month as prosecutors, led by Yoon, searched Cho’s home, his workplace, his children’s schools, and his parents’ educational foundation. Since the presidential election in March 2022, former liberal presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung 이재명 has faced 332 raids on himself, his family and associates.
In several politically sensitive cases, campaigns of public humiliation through raids have driven targets to commit suicide. In June 2020, for example, the director of Our House of Peace 평화의 우리집, one of the shelters for former “Comfort Women 위안부”, took her own life two weeks after prosecutors raided the house on suspicion of embezzlement, having told her friends that the raids felt like “a wholesale denial of my entire life.”
The tenfold increase in raids stands in stark contrast to the number of arrest warrants, which declined by more than 80% over the same time period: courts issued nearly 100k arrest warrants in 2002, but only 18k arrest warrants in 2022.
Unlike an arrest warrant application, in which (following reforms introduced in 1997) the subject of the arrest may appear in court to defend themselves, a raid warrant application is a unilateral proceeding based solely on a written submission by the prosecutor. This gives courts little room to reject applications for raid warrants, resulting in 98.4% of all applications for prosecutorial raids being granted.
The judiciary is pushing back on this trend. On February 3, the Office of Court Administration 법원 행정처 under the Supreme Court 대법원, the rule-making body for South Korea’s judiciary, announced that beginning on June 1, the Public Prosecutors’ Office 검찰청 will be required to submit a plan describing how it will execute the raid, and to defend the necessity of a raid in oral arguments. Courts will also be able to summon the subject of the raid or other relevant witnesses while reviewing applications.
In a statement the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office 대검찰청 claimed the new rule would “seriously impair prosecutors’ ability to respond to crimes strongly.” The Office of the President 대통령실, via an unnamed official, called the new regulation “absurd,” although it refrained from taking a formal position.