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Probe of top brass sends prosecution into doldrums

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Published : 2017-05-18 16:21
Updated : 2017-05-18 18:11

Two high-ranking officials of the Justice Ministry and the prosecution offered to resign Thursday, a day after President Moon Jae-in ordered an internal investigation into allegations that they gave money to subordinates who investigated the corruption scandal of former President Park Geun-hye.

The resignations of Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office head Lee Yeong-ryeol and Justice Ministry senior official Ahn Tae-geun, however, will not be considered until the audit is complete, a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

This photo taken on May 17, 2017, shows the national flag and the prosecution's flag flapping in the wind at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in the capital. (Yonhap)

A 22-member team, exceptionally large for an internal audit, has been formed to look into the case, which experts say would set the tone for the Moon administration’s reform of law enforcement.

“I am sorry for causing concern to the public. I’m offering my resignation from the post and will sincerely cooperate with the inspection,” Lee said in a statement.

The dubious cash offerings took place at a dinner on March 21, just four days after his special investigation team wrapped up the probe of the scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye, which led to several high-profile figures, including Park herself, being sent to trial. They, however, stopped short of arresting Woo Byung-woo, Park’s prosecutor-turned-legal affairs secretary, though many strongly suspected him of taking part in the alleged irregularities.

Lee and Ahn gave envelopes each containing between 700,000 won ($617) and 1,000,000 won to each other’s subordinates who were present at the dinner.

The atmosphere was tense at the prosecution Thursday, with many apparently feeling uneasy at how the elite law enforcement group has become a prime target of reform.

During his presidential campaign, Moon, a lawyer-turned-liberal politician, vowed to overhaul the powerful authority with exclusive rights to indictment, criticizing some prosecutors for serving those in power, not the general public.

Signaling a clear intention to reform the prosecution, he appointed Cho Kuk last week, an outspoken law professor, as his legal affairs secretary, a post previously taken by Woo.

The prosecution had attempted to arrest Woo in early April in relation to the scandal involving former President Park, but its request for a warrant was rejected by the court due to insufficient evidence.

The rejection triggered controversy, with some questioning whether the prosecutors thoroughly investigated Woo, who is dubbed by critics as the “emperor” for holding sway over the nation’s judiciary and intelligence bodies.

Ahn, the Justice Ministry official who tendered resignation, is suspected of exchanging telephone calls with Woo last year, while Woo was defending himself against a series of allegations, including one that he hindered the prosecution’s investigation into the 2014 sinking of the ferry Sewol.

By Bak Se-hwan (sh@heraldcorp.com)