Rift be­tween jus­tice min­is­ter, chief prose­cu­tor deep­en­ing

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kim Se-jeong skim@ko­re­atimes.co.kr

Jus­tice Min­is­ter Choo Mi-ae and Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral Yoon Seok-youl were never on good terms, but the ten­sion be­tween the two has never been as deep as it is now, ac­cord­ing to le­gal pun­dits, Tues­day.

Choo lashed out at Yoon, Mon­day, for re­fus­ing to fol­low her rec­om­men­da­tion re­gard­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Shin­cheonji Church of Je­sus, a Chris­tian sect, in Daegu amid the COVID-19 out­break in Fe­bru­ary.

“If the pros­e­cu­tion had con­ducted a search of the church, it could have ob­tained CCTV data which could have helped in get­ting a list of mem­bers visit­ing the church. Yet, the au­thor­i­ties missed a golden op­por­tu­nity to ob­tain crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion and it slowed down their re­sponse to the out­break,” Choo said dur­ing a meet­ing with a group of new law­mak­ers at the Na­tional Assem­bly.

Ear­lier that day, Choo also wrote on Face­book: “When power is unchecked, it is like a run­away en­gine. And al­ways, the re­sult is dam­age to cit­i­zens. That’s why this ad­min­is­tra­tion is stress­ing pros­e­cu­to­rial re­form.”

Choo was ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to Yoon for fail­ing to com­ply with her or­ders on an old bribery case in­volv­ing for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Han

Myeong-sook, and an­other linked to his sub­or­di­nate, Han Dong-hoon, who is al­leged to have con­spired with a broad­cast jour­nal­ist to black­mail a busi­ness­man to get in­for­ma­tion about one of Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in’s close al­lies.

Yoon has been quiet about Choo’s open crit­i­cism, but he has sup­port in re­sist­ing her med­dling into the pros­e­cu­tion’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

Un­der the law, the chief prose­cu­tor has the right to refuse any min­is­ter’s rec­om­men­da­tion.

Prof. Lee Chang-hyun, who teaches law at Hankook Univer­sity of For­eign Stud­ies, said “The pros­e­cu­tors’ of­fice has to have in­de­pen­dence. But, the min­is­ter is try­ing to in­ter­fere ex­ces­sively.”

This makes Yoon a hero among anti-Moon sup­port­ers. Ac­cord­ing to a Real­me­ter poll Tues­day, peo­ple chose Yoon as the third po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­date rep­re­sent­ing the op­po­si­tion party.

At the cen­ter of the ten­sion lies the al­leged “ex­ces­sive power” of the pros­e­cu­tion and Moon’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­duce this.

For a long time in Korea, pros­e­cu­tors were priv­i­leged and blamed for cor­rup­tion.

Pros­e­cu­to­rial re­form and di­lut­ing its power through shar­ing it with other agen­cies were Moon’s top pri­or­i­ties when he was sworn in as pres­i­dent.

Moon ap­pointed Yoon as chief prose­cu­tor in July last year in ac­cor­dance with the re­form agenda, but Yoon quickly be­came a headache for the pres­i­dent, as he also in­ves­ti­gated cor­rup­tion in Moon’s own close cir­cle.

The prose­cu­tor gen­eral or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Cho Kuk, the for­mer Jus­tice Min­is­ter and Moon’s close aide who spear­headed the pros­e­cu­to­rial re­form, over cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing his fam­ily mem­bers — Cho re­signed from the post late last year and his wife and him are cur­rently on trial.

Yoon also or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2017 Ul­san may­oral elec­tion over Cheong Wa Dae’s med­dling to save an­other Moon’s close ally.

In re­sponse, Moon openly told Yoon to stop be­ing ex­ces­sively harsh with cases in­volv­ing his aides, while ask­ing him to look into cor­rup­tion cases in­volv­ing of­fi­cials from those op­posed to him.

Re­plac­ing Cho in Jan­uary, new Min­is­ter Choo pressed Yoon harder. The min­is­ter, against Yoon’s wishes, re­struc­tured the prose­cu­tor’s of­fice and re­as­signed peo­ple — putting pros­e­cu­tors who sup­ported her in higher po­si­tions.

Choo Mi-ae

Yoon Seok-youl

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