The ongoing conflict between the chiefs of the prosecution and the Justice Ministry is reminiscent of clashes between their predecessors that rocked the nation’s law enforcement system and had huge political ramifications.
Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook offered to resign Friday amid controversy over a newspaper report that he secretly had a son through an extramarital affair. His announcement came hours after Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered an inspection of him over the claim, despite Chae’s repeated denials.
The two officials were already at odds in May over the prosecutorial investigation into the National Intelligence Service’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.
Despite the minister’s public opposition, the prosecutors indicted former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon on charges of breaking the election law.
Observers believe Chae infuriated the conservatives in power by pressing charges against Won. They suspect the newspaper report was part of a campaign to remove him.
In the past the holders of the most powerful law enforcement posts have often clashed over their jurisdiction, especially in connection with politically sensitive cases.
In 2005, then-Prosecutor General Kim Jong-bin stepped down after then-Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae exercised his right to command the prosecution’s investigation, for the first time in history.
The prosecutors’ office was investigating Dongguk University professor Kang Jeong-koo who was accused of violating the National Security Law.
Kang wrote in his column that the Korean War was sparked by the North Korean leadership’s attempt to unify the country and that the battle could have ended in one month if the United States had not intervened in the “war of unification.”
While the prosecution attempted to take him into custody, Chun invoked his authority and ordered it not to detain Kang.
The command of investigation is the minister’s authority to order or stop prosecutorial investigations into certain cases.
In protest, Kim stepped down immediately, only six months after his inauguration.
Another famous case occurred in 2004 over the prosecution’s seeking of arrest warrants for civic activists who protested the then-opposition parties’ push for an impeachment of then-President Roh Moo-hyun.
The prosecution did not inform the ministry that it would seek arrest warrants against the protesters during the probe.
Then-Justice Minister Kang Kum-sil ordered a fact-finding investigation into the prosecution for not reporting to the ministry in advance.
The late president faced a revolt from prosecutors in 2003 before he named Kang, breaking the long-held seniority system in appointment.
The unprecedented personnel measure caused a backlash among prosecutors, prompting a number of high-ranking prosecutors to quit.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (email@example.com