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[Newsmaker] Prosecutor-general nominee faces rocky hearing

Rival parties are expected to fiercely debate the appointment of Prosecutor-General nominee Yoon Seok-youl at his confirmation hearing.

Some of the issues at stake are the alleged involvement of Yoon’s mother-in-law in a fraud case, how he managed to amass a fortune of 6.59 billion won ($5.56 million), and the envisioned reform of the prosecution.

Prosecutor-General nominee Yoon Seok-youl leaves the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office in Seocho-gu, Seoul, for lunch Monday (Yonhap)
Prosecutor-General nominee Yoon Seok-youl leaves the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office in Seocho-gu, Seoul, for lunch Monday (Yonhap)

Claims by victims of fraud allegedly committed by Yoon’s mother-in-law were made public by an opposition lawmaker last year.

“The mother-in-law’s proxy is in jail, but the mother-in-law, who is the real culprit, didn’t get any punishment,” Rep. Jang Je-won of the Liberty Korea Party said during a parliamentary audit in October.

“The victims say that Yoon was behind it.”

Yoon at the time retorted, “If they lost billions of won, they must have pressed civil or criminal charges, but I don’t even know where the case is.”

Opposition lawmakers are also likely to question how Yoon became the richest high-ranking official in the judiciary and the prosecution.

The biggest question at the confirmation hearing, however, would be how Yoon plans to go ahead with the Moon Jae-in administration’s envisioned reform of the prosecution, which has met with fierce backlash from prosecutors.

The reform drive includes readjusting or balancing investigative rights between the prosecution and the police, and creating a separate agency to investigate crimes committed by high-ranking officials.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party says that Moon’s nomination of Yoon is aimed at continuing with probes into opposition politicians.

On the other hand, the ruling Democratic Party says Yoon is the right person to complete the reform of the prosecution.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet endorsed President Moon’s nomination of Yoon to replace Moon Moo-il whose two-year tenure ends July 24.

Yoon was a key member of the special prosecutor team that investigated the corruption and power abuse scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil.

Yoon also led the probe into allegations that the National Intelligence Service interfered with the 2012 presidential election.

If appointed, Yoon will be the first prosecutor-general who has not headed a high prosecutors’ office since Korea introduced fixed tenures for prosecution chiefs in 1988.

Under the Constitution, the nominations of prosecutor-general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chief of staff and president of a national university must be deliberated and endorsed by the Cabinet.

The presidential office then submits a motion to the National Assembly to confirm the nomination. The parliament should complete the confirmation hearing within 20 days, though parliamentary consent is not required for appointment.

By Park So-hyun (