Top pros­e­cu­tor strives to tighten grip on of­fice

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Kim Se-jeong skim@ko­re­

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.

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