NATIONAL

Moon picks reformist to lead major prosecutors’ office

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : May 19, 2017 - 13:20
  • Updated : May 19, 2017 - 18:21
President Moon Jae-in on Friday named a reformist prosecutor as the new chief of Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, giving a boost to sweeping reforms of the nation’s most powerful law enforcement agency.

The presidential office said that Moon had appointed Yoon Seok-yeol, who played a key role in the investigation into the corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil, to head the nation’s biggest prosecutors’ body.

Yoon Seok-yeol (Yonhap)

“The most important pending issue facing the nation’s prosecution is the probe into the scandal and to maintain the indictment of suspects,” Moon told reporters, signaling a possibility of an additional probe into the scandal. “I think he is the right person to do it well.”

The move came after Lee Yeong-ryeol, former chief of the prosecutors’ office and Ahn Tae-guen, a high-ranking official of the Justice Ministry, offered to resign Thursday over allegations that they gave money to subordinates who investigated the corruption scandal.

Earlier in the day, acting justice minister Lee Chang-jae, who has headed the Justice Ministry since late November, also offered to step down, saying “I should be the first one to give up what I have to restore the public trust in light of the recent incident.”

Lee and Ahn had dinner with the special investigation team on March 21 and gave cash bonuses to the investigators, only four days after the team ended the probe into the scandal, indicting several high-profile figures including ousted leader Park herself.

But the team faced public criticism for its failure to arrest prosecutor-turned-presidential aide Woo Byung-woo, who is accused of being at the core of the irregularities. The cash bonus is suspected as kickbacks in return for saving Woo from detention.

Upon the order by President Moon, the Justice Ministry and state prosecutors formed a 22-person team and opened an internal audit on Thursday into the alleged cash exchanges between Yoon’s predecessor and investigators. The team asked the prosecutors involved in the case to turn in a report to explain their stance.

This combined photo shows Lee Young-ryeol, chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office (left) and Ahn Tae-geun, ranking official at the Ministry of Justice. The two offered to resign on May 18, 2017, one day after President Moon Jae-in ordered an inspection into allegations they inappropriately exchanged money. (Yonhap)

Lee and Ahn have been demoted and transferred to Busan District Prosecutors’ Office and Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office, respectively. The presidential office earlier refused to accept their resignations, citing an ongoing audit into the officials.

The new chief Yoon, a senior prosecutor at the Daejeon High Prosecutors’ Office, has until February served as one of the assistant prosecutors to Independent Counsel Park Young-soo for a 70-day probe into the scandal.

Yoon has gained a reputation for having an uncompromising attitude toward the powerful after he publicly revealed that there had been outside influence in his investigation into the nation’s spy agency’s alleged meddling in the election. Since then, he has been excluded from major posts in the prosecution.

“I took on a demanding role. I will think a lot and do my best,” Yoon told reporters after the announcement.

The appointment of Yoon is expected to accelerate the reforms of the prosecutors‘ office, which has long been accused of holding too much power. The organization has also been accused of being politically motivated, and of abusing its powers.

The revamp of the prosecution has been one of Moon’s key election promises.

Public distrust of the prosecution hit a tipping point in the wake of the corruption scandal, with it criticized for being lukewarm in investigating cases related to ranking officials under the Park administration and being politicized in favor of the government.

Moon is also expected to fill other posts in the prosecution in the near future as it has had a leadership vacuum after Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong and Prosecutor-General Kim Soo-nam, all appointed by ousted President Park, stepped down.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)