|Prosecutors stand in front of the Stock Crime Joint Investigation Team's office when the team was transferred to the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors' Office from the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in February 2014. / Yonhap|
By Park Jae-hyuk
The financial authorities and retail investors here have been concerned about the Ministry of Justice's latest decision to disband the Stock Crime Joint Investigation Team under the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors' Office as investigations into illegal stock trading may suffer, sources said Tuesday.
The justice ministry announced Monday it would abolish the team as its existence went against the government's reform drive to reduce "direct investigations" by prosecutors.
The team, comprised of prosecutors, investigators and officials from the Financial Services Commission (FSC), the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) and the Korea Exchange (KRX), had been dubbed the "Grim Reapers on Yeouido" as it was able to launch investigations without FSS inspections if the FSC regarded a case as a "serious financial crime."
Since its launch in May 2013, the team has indicted 965 individuals for violations of the Capital Markets Act.
These include former executives of Goldman Sachs and Daiwa Securities, who allegedly made unfair profits by manipulating stock prices.
The team has served as the control tower for investigations into financial crimes, based on its accessibility to KRX trading data and FSS analyses of accounts.
Its prosecutors have also enhanced their expertise in investigations into financial crimes.
The FSC fears that the ministry's recent measure may slow the handling of crimes in the capital market, and that this will have a harmful impact on victims, most of whom are retail investors.
"Considering the distinctiveness of crimes in the capital market, speedier investigations are needed," said Kim Jhee-nong, the director of the FSC's capital market investigation team. "We are concerned about the delay in the handling of criminal cases."
The FSS remained cautious about the action, saying it would wait and evaluate follow-up measures.
"We have yet to be informed of how the team will be disbanded and which agency will be in charge of investigations into stock market crimes," said Kim Young-chul, the director-general at the FSS capital market investigation department.
The financial watchdog, however, reportedly opposes the abolition of the team, because it has helped a 16-member special investigation team launched by the FSS in July 2019 eradicate illegal trading in the capital market.
The Stock Crime Joint Investigation Team oversaw the FSS team.
An industry source said market manipulators have wanted the government to disband the joint investigation team.
"Market manipulators have been prepared for investigations after memorizing the list of names of the joint investigation team members," a brokerage house official said on condition of anonymity. "Individual investors may suffer bigger losses as the techniques used by manipulators have continued to advance."
Some observers allege the justice ministry's measure was intended to protect ruling party officials including former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.
The joint investigation team dispatched a prosecutor and several investigators to the investigation squad looking into the Cho family's alleged illegal trading through Co-link Private Equity. The team has also looked into claims of insider trading of Sillagen stocks, which are alleged to involve ruling party members.