The main opposition Democratic Party vowed to bring up the controversy surrounding Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook’s resignation in the talks with President Park Geun-hye and the Saenuri Party leader on Monday, signaling a tough political standoff ahead.
On Sunday, DP chairman Rep. Kim Han-gil warned that he will take up the issue with the president, saying that he will attend the talks being held at the National Assembly despite concerns that Chae’s resignation has rendered the meeting meaningless. Chae’s announcement was made on Friday, about an hour after Minister of Justice Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered an inspection to verify allegations of the prosecutor general having an extramarital child.
“The main agenda for tomorrow’s conference should be the harm in political meddling by the National Intelligence Service and other organizations of power,” Kim said. The DP has been calling for Park to apologize and to directly engage in clarifying the NIS’ alleged attempts to influence last year’s presidential election.
Demorcratic Party chairman Rep. Kim Han-gil holds a press conference at the party's makeshift office in Seoul Plaza on Sunday. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
“The prosecutor general’s resignation is on the same plane. President Park should prepare a clear answer for this.”
Kim added that Chae, whom the Park Geun-hye administration considered “a thorn in its side,” has been pushed out by the government and that such developments could not have happened without the approval of the president.
The DP and the presidential office wrangled until later in the day over the details of the meeting down to the dress code.
Cheong Wa Dae suggested an hour-long meeting after the president briefs parliamentary leaders about her overseas visits, and requested the DP leader to dress formally. The suggestions were met with various counter demands from the DP including that the three-way meeting to be held first and for it be televised. Cheong Wa Dae has effectively rejected the idea, saying that revealing what was discussed in the meeting afterwards would be sufficient.
With regards to Chae, Cheong Wa Dae reiterated that the presidential office was not involved in the developments.
Senior presidential press secretary Lee Jung-hyun said that Chae’s resignation has not been processed, and that the priority is to find the truth about the situation.
A high-level Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters that the president would also see the need to find the truth and that the main opposition party should not use related developments to further their agenda.
Saying that the issue does not concern the prosecutors’ independence, the Cheong Wa Dae official said Chae’s problem was about a public figure’s ethicality.
“An inspection is carried out when there is a problem, and the order was given to verify the truth according to the Justice Ministry’s system,” he said.
“Why is Chae stepping down (if the allegations) are not true. (Chae) should actively seek to reveal the truth.”
The prosecutor general and his alleged extramarital child took center stage in the political arena following reports from a major conservative newspaper.
While Chae denied having any knowledge about the allegations, speculations have risen that the Chosun Ilbo report was a ploy by the government to punish Chae for his actions regarding the NIS and its alleged election interference.
There have been reports of fissures between the Justice Ministry and the prosecution under Chae’s lead over the prosecutors’ indictment in June of former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon and former Seoul police commissioner Kim Yong-pan for violating the Public Official Election Act and the NIS Act.
Regardless of whether Chae’s resignation has been processed or not, the prosecutor general’s announcement has prompted protests from prosecutors citing concerns for their political independence, and that for the stability of the organization.
On Saturday, prosecutors of the Seoul West District Prosecutors’ Office formally opposed the decision saying that the circumstances surrounding Chae’s announcement could raise doubts about the prosecutors’ independence.
Prosecutors of other Seoul districts and provincial offices are expected to follow suit during the week.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com)