Top prosecutor strives to tighten grip on office
Prosecutor General Yoon Seokyoul broke a long silence Monday, with a message that many viewed as an expression of his intention to tighten his grip on the nearly 2,300 prosecutors who have seen their standing increasingly falter amid the ongoing prosecutorial reform drive backed by the Moon Jae-in administration.
“The core value of liberal democracy is to shun dictatorships and totalitarianism in the appearance of democracy… Liberal democracy can be realized only through the rule of law,” Yoon said at an event to welcome new prosecutors, Monday.
“Prosecutors should not turn away from corruption cases and graft involving people with power. Instead, you have to face them.”
Earlier that day, Choo addressed to the same crowd insisting prosecutors should stop abusing their powers.
“The prosecution office was born with the purpose to defend the rights of citizens and the prosecutors are the last defense to do so. To restore its lost trust from the public, prosecutors should exert limited power.”
The message came one month after Yoon “gave in” to Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae in a conflict by granting a fellow prosecutor the authority to investigate a case involving his close aide.
Jin Joong-kwon, a professor at Dongyang University, called the prosecutor general’s message a strong pushback against Choo and the incumbent Moon administration’s reform drive that “is attempting to keep the prosecution under its democratic control instead of guaranteeing independence and autonomy.”
Korea has seen prosecutors linked to many high-profile corruption cases. Prosecutorial reform is allegedly an attempt to fix this but prosecutors, including Yoon, do not fully see eye to eye on it.
Yoon was appointed last year amid this drive but he quickly became a headache for Moon as he ordered investigations into high-profile officials around the President.
One example was former Justice Minister Cho Kuk who was under investigation over corruption allegations involving his family members. Another was Ulsan Mayor Song Cheol-ho who allegedly won the 2018 election with illegal help from Cheong Wa Dae. Both Cho and Song are close aides to Moon.
The clash between Yoon and Choo started in January as she took office as justice minister.
In addition to moving prosecutors around against Yoon’s wishes, Choo has pushed to reduce his power in the prosecutors’ office. Against this backdrop came the case involving Han Dong-hoon, who is Yoon’s close aide, in which he allegedly conspired with a cable news channel journalist to blackmail a businessman to get information about one of President Moon’s close allies.
While Yoon wanted the case to be closed quickly without any indictments, Choo considered Yoon to be interfering in the case and ordered the prosecutor responsible for the investigation to carry on. The rift between Yoon and Choo was made public until Yoon eventually said he would do as he was told.
In late July, the justice minister also made recommendations that would further reduce the power of the chief prosecutor in handling individual cases.
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl addresses new prosecutors during a welcoming ceremony at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul, Monday.