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Lee to name new top prosecutor, justice chief

President Lee Myung-bak, who returned from his African tour Monday, is expected to replace the justice minister, prosecutor-general and senior presidential secretary for civil affairs later this month.

In protest over a bill which state prosecutors believe restricts their investigative rights, Prosecutor General Kim Joon-kyu offered to resign last week while Lee was in South Africa.

Lee is likely to nominate successors to Kim and Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam, Presidential Chief-of-Staff Yim Tae-hee told reporters last week.

“We will take steps to have the (parliamentary) confirmation hearings completed by August,” Yim said.

Incumbent top presidential aide for civil affairs Kwon Jae-jin is reportedly on top of the list for justice minister candidates despite continued criticism against the president’s “revolving-door” nominations from a small pool of close associates.

Former presidents had kept from appointing their civil affairs aides as justice ministers ahead of general or presidential elections to avoid allegations that Cheong Wa Dae may be interfering with investigations for political purposes.

For the new prosecutor-general’s post, Han Sang-dae, chief of the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, and Cha Dong-min, chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office, have been shortlisted.

The new prosecutor-general is assigned with the task of enacting ordinances for the revised law on investigative rights of the prosecution and the police and maintaining political neutrality as the nation braces for general elections in April and presidential elections in December next year.

Should Kwon be appointed as the new justice minister, his position as senior presidential secretary is expected to be filled by either Han or Cha, who both hail from the Seoul area. Lee has been particular about seeking regional balance when picking nominees for senior government posts. Kwon comes from the Daegu area. So if the president decides not to name him as justice minister designate, Park Yong-seok, deputy chief of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office and Noh Hwan-kyun, chief of the Daegu High Prosecutors’ Office, who both hail from the Daegu-North Gyeongsang Province region, will have a bigger chance in becoming the next top presidential aide for civil affairs.

Yim hinted that ministers or vice ministers who plan to run in the general elections in April could also be replaced soon.

None of the incumbent ministers or vice ministers have officially announced their intention to run for a parliamentary seat yet, but those who plan to throw their hat in the ring for the first time would need time to publicize themselves in their respective constituencies.

“It would be a different case for people who already have their constituencies,” Yim said, hinting that ministers who are incumbent lawmakers as well such as Culture Minister Chung Byung-kook and Health Minister Chin Soo-hee may not be replaced this time.

Lee is scheduled to meet with the newly-elected leader of the ruling Grand National Party Hong Joon-pyo on Wednesday. The government is preparing to take measures to curb the rise of public utility charges such as electricity costs and push for summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in the second half of this year.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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