Published : 2013-10-27 19:00
Updated : 2013-10-27 20:24
President Park Geun-hye on Sunday tapped Kim Jin-tae, a former deputy prosecutor general, as the nominee for the post of chief prosecutor. The nominee has to undergo a parliamentary hearing but is virtually assured of the post, given that no decision by the hearing committee is binding.
As part of the selection process, the justice minister recommended Kim, one of the four the selection committee picked as candidates for the post last week, to the president for his appointment as the nominee. But the minister’s recommendation was nothing but a formality.
When he is formally appointed prosecutor-general at the end of the process, Kim will have the daunting task of creating unity in the divided prosecution, protecting it from undue influence from the outside, keeping it politically neutral and winning back trust from the disillusioned public.
Few would deny that the prosecution is in crisis, although the situation may not be as bad now as it was in late 2012. At the time, the then prosecutor-general resigned under pressure from senior prosecutors, who demanded that he hold himself responsible for mishandling corruption and sex scandals involving some prosecutors. He was also accused of incompetence when he came up with a half-baked plan for the prosecution’s reform.
The current crisis is best represented by the revolt of a mid-level prosecutor against senior prosecutors in the line of command. The prosecutor, who had until recently headed a special investigation team looking into the National Intelligence Service’s alleged political intervention, accused not only his immediate supervisor but the justice minister of meddling in his team’s inquiry.
In his testimony during the parliamentary inspection of government agencies, the prosecutor said he had no other choice than to go ahead with his decision to arrest three spy agency officials. He claimed that his seniors attempted to scale down his team’s investigation. He charged the spy agency officials with tweeting messages smearing the opposition presidential candidate last year. He was dismissed from the post of chief investigator for arresting the officials without obtaining prior permission.
The prosecution has been in disarray in recent years. Most notable among the causes is the lack of confidence among junior prosecutors in the prosecution’s leadership. Quite a few prosecutors apparently believe that the leadership has frequently failed to fend off the power elite’s attempts to exercise undue influence on the prosecution’s law enforcement.
What President Park needs to do is to ensure that the prosecution will remain politically neutral and independent in enforcing the law. The first step she will have to take in this regard is to ensure that the new prosecutor-general will win respect from junior prosecutors for his integrity and leadership.
She will also have to keep herself from the temptation to demand that he comply with her wishes. If so, he could eventually be a costly liability.