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Tensions spike ahead of prosecutor-general nominee confirmation hearing

Yoon’s involvement in NTS official’s bribery investigation, allegations surrounding Yoon’s mother-in-law expected to be pursued

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party on Sunday geared up for a full-fledged battle in the parliamentary confirmation hearing for Prosecutor-General nominee Yoon Seok-youl.

The nomination of reform-minded Yoon has drawn fierce objection from the opposition bloc, which opposes the Moon Jae-in administration’s drive to reform the prosecution and adjust the authority of the police and the prosecution.

With tensions running high, both the Democratic Party and Liberty Korea Party last week replaced some of their members on the Legislation and Judiciary Committee with aggressive veteran lawmakers.

Political pundits expect the opposition to hound Yoon on ethics issues -- such as Yoon’s alleged meddling in a bribery case involving a former-National Tax Service official and legal accusations against Yoon’s mother-in-law -- in a bid to block Yoon from helming the powerful office of the prosecutor-general.

To fend off opposition attacks, the ruling party is keen on spinning the confirmation hearing into a hearing on incumbent Liberty Korea Party chief and then-Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, raising suspicions that Hwang had suppressed the prosecution’s investigation into a cyber operation masterminded by the National Intelligence Service leader to post online comments favorable to then-Presidential candidate Park Geun-hye in 2012. Yoon was the leader of the team probing the NIS’ online opinion manipulation in 2013.

The main sticking point of the hearing is expected to be Yoon’s alleged involvement in a 2013 bribery case involving Yoon Woo-jin, ex-chief of the NTS Yongsan District Office, as four of the five witnesses requested by the Judiciary Committee are linked to the case.

The Liberty Korea Party claims that nominee Yoon Seok-youl introduced a prosecutor-turned-lawyer surnamed Lee to Yoon Woo-jin, in violation of the Act on Attorney-at-Law, which prohibits public servants in positions linked to court trial or investigation from introducing a lawyer to those subject to trial or investigation.

Prosecutor-General nominee Yoon Seok-youl (Yonhap)
Prosecutor-General nominee Yoon Seok-youl (Yonhap)

Yoon Woo-jin was investigated by police over allegations of receiving 20 million won ($17,020) in cash, 100 sets of ribs and 40 million won worth of golf rounds from a local businessman.

Yoon Woo-jin is the brother of sitting Deputy Minister for Criminal Affairs Yoon Dae-jin.

Yoon Dae-jin and nominee Yoon Seok-youl are not related, but are known to have a close relationship.

Yoon Woo-jin fled overseas during the police investigation in 2013 and was caught the following year. He was acquitted in 2015, and the case was closed.

Yoon Woo-jin has been called in as a witness for the confirmation hearing, but he reportedly left the country ahead of the hearing on Monday.

As the Liberty Korea Party seeks to capitalize on the case, main opposition lawmaker Joo Kwang-deok has filed a complaint against former-NTS official Yoon Woo-jin with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office over suspected irregularities.

“This is a case in which strong suspicions have been raised of corruption and bribery by a high-level government official, who is allegedly protected by a force within the prosecution,” Joo said in a press conference at the National Assembly last week.

“His (Yoon Woo-jin) younger brother is a chief prosecutor of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, so he does not face threats of unfair or illegal investigation. Yet he hastily fled overseas because of wrongdoings. The prosecution should thoroughly look into suspicions surrounding Yoon Woo-jin,” Joo added.

Accusations involving nominee Yoon Seok-youl’s mother-in-law are also likely to take center stage.

According to the Liberty Korea Party, Yoon’s mother-in-law surnamed Choi faces several allegations, including involvement in a fraud case involving her acquaintance, violation of Korea’s medical law from which she profited some 2.2 billion won and making false accusations against her business partner.

Main opposition legislator Kim Jin-tae argued, “Choi has not been punished for any of the cases despite clear evidence. Choi has to be reinvestigated for fraud, forgery of private papers and breach of medical law."

Nominee Yoon Seok-youl, who tied the knot in 2012 with a wealthy businesswoman, has refuted the Liberty Korea Party’s accusations, saying, “I do not know of the case and have not been involved in investigation or trial.” 

By Kim Bo-gyung (