Resistance among prosecutors is rising upon the resignation of prosecutor general Chae Dong-wook last week over a personal rumor, as speculation prevailed that it was the result of pressure from Cheong Wa Dae.
A day after Chae offered to step down Friday, Kim Yoon-sang, director of the first inspection division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, offered to resign, criticizing the ministry’s “unjust” pressure.
Chae said he was unable to carry on his duties after Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-an ordered an internal investigation over the report by the Chosun Ilbo alleging that he had a son out of wedlock.
The opposition questioned the timing of the inspection order, which came as Chae filed a suit for a correction against the newspaper and vowed to take a paternity test to prove the allegation false. They also pointed out that Hwang’s decision was made while the ministry’s inspector general was in Europe.
In a letter posted on the Prosecutor’s Office’s intranet, Kim claimed that it was “extremely rare” for the ministry to inspect a prosecutor without prior consultation with his division. Alleging that the justice minister had been manipulated by “schemers,” Kim said, “I step down for the sake of not being shameful to my son and daughter.”
SPO’s Office of Future Strategy and Mission chief Park Eun-jae also slammed the ministry, saying, “A majority of the people think that a certain power is knocking over the prosecutor general by digging into his personal life after he was blacklisted over the National Intelligence Service’s smear campaign case.” Former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon is currently indicted for breaching election law.
Some 40 prosecutors of the Seoul Seobu District Prosecutors’ Office released a statement demanding reconsideration of Chae’s resignation.
As sentiment worsened, the Justice Ministry denied any political motivation, and said the inspection order was made in accordance with the relevant regulations, which stipulate that the justice minister can order an investigation where an internal prosecution audit is considered insufficient.
Cheong Wa Dae also rushed to quell speculations Sunday, saying the inspection order had nothing to do with the prosecution’s political independence but concerned a public servant’s ethics.
The controversy comes less than a year since the prosecution was last plunged into disarray, when sex and bribery scandals brought calls for prosecution reform. When then-prosecutor general Han Sang-dae shunned calls for him to step down, and instead pushed for reform by disbanding the powerful central investigative bureau, internal resistance surged. When Han ordered an inspection against his subordinate in charge of the central investigation in the process, the backlash reached boiling point, forcing him to step down.
Observers said while the crisis at the time involved an internal power struggle, the current case revolves around purported political interference with the prosecution, giving it wider explosiveness.
By Lee Joo-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org