|Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook leaves the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on Friday. (Yonhap News)|
Top prosecutor Chae Dong-wook offered to resign Friday over allegations that he secretly had a son through an extramarital affair.
The prosecutor general continued to deny the claim by a conservative newspaper, but said he might not be able to carry out his duties amid the scandal.
The main opposition Democratic Party suspects that Cheong Wa Dae and the National Intelligence Service may be pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Since he took office in April, Chae has spearheaded an investigation into the spy agency alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.
The announcement came shortly after Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-an ordered an internal investigation of Chae over the controversial report that first appeared last Friday.
“I would like to put down the heavy burden of prosecutor general,” Chae was quoted as saying by spokesman Koo Bon-sun. Chae apologized for failing to complete his term, the spokesman said.
“I want to say once again that the report regarding my personal matter is completely groundless.”
The Chosun Ilbo, the nation’s largest daily, published a series of articles claiming that the prosecution chief fathered a son in 2002 with a woman he met in 1999. Chae and his wife have a daughter.
Chae responded he would take a paternity test as soon as possible to “reveal the truth.” On Thursday, Chae said he will file a lawsuit against the newspaper for retraction.
The tit-for-tat between Chae and the daily escalated further when the 54-year-old woman identified by her surname Lim sent a letter to liberal newspaper Hankyoreh earlier this week explaining that her son was not Chae’s offspring and that she only used his name to protect her child as he grew older.
Chae and Lim reportedly became acquainted while she was running a bar in Busan in 1999 when Chae was serving there.
Even though Chae stood firm against the allegations, he offered to resign an hour later the Justice Ministry said it would conduct an internal investigation into the matter.
It is the first time a justice minister has ordered an investigation into the country’s top prosecutor over a personal scandal.
“There was an urgent need to end the controversy and promote the stability of the prosecution office by revealing the truth as soon as possible,” the ministry said, adding that an independent counsel will look into the case and report the results directly to the minister. Chae is no longer subject to investigation since he stepped down from the post.
The main opposition Democratic Party expressed regrets over Chae’s resignation and called for a committee meeting at the National Assembly on Monday.
“We express a deep regret. The prosecutor general seems to have thought that he couldn’t carry out his duty in proper manner anymore,” DP spokeswoman Bae Jae-jeong said.
“Minister Hwang’s order for an investigation can be only viewed as an attempt to eliminate prosecutor-general Chae,” DP members to the Judiciary Committee at the National Assembly said in joint statement.
The ruling Saenuri also expressed concern, calling it “unfortunate.” Cheong Wa Dae, however, remained in silence, declining to comment.
Chae, the first prosecutor general appointed by President Park Geun-hye, took office in April for a two-year term. He succeeded Han Sang-dae who resigned over a series of high-profile scandals within the organization.
Since taking office, Chae has been stepping up efforts to regain public trust by handling a number of high-profile cases, such as CJ’s alleged slush fund and collecting a massive amount of unpaid fines from ex-presidents.
The prosecution is currently investigating the state spy agency’s alleged political intervention during the last presidential election. Former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon and the ex-Seoul police chief have been indicted for their alleged roles in the political scandal. Opposition parties have been criticizing the report, saying it was intended to sway the prosecution’s ongoing investigation into the spy agency.
“I think I did my best to lead the prosecution in accordance with law and principle for the past five months,” Chae told reporters while leaving the office.
By Cho Chung-un and Lee Hyun-jeong