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Ex-ruling party leader Choo tapped as justice minister

Lawmaker picked to reform prosecution amid power abuse scandal

Choo Mi-ae, nominee for South Korea’s justice minister, addresses reporters. (Yonhap)
Choo Mi-ae, nominee for South Korea’s justice minister, addresses reporters. (Yonhap)
Choo Mi-ae, former chairperson of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, was nominated new justice minister Thursday, amid a power abuse scandal involving Cheong Wa Dae.

The five-term lawmaker will succeed Cho Kuk, her embattled predecessor who resigned over corruption allegations involving his family and who now faces additional power abuse allegations.

“Choo was a judge known for her people-centered philosophy. As a judge and lawmaker, she has displayed strong convictions and will deliver the judicial reforms people desire,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung said at a press briefing.

The justice minster nominee said she would take up President Moon Ja-in’s offer to bring about such a change.

“It is time for prosecutorial and judicial reforms. The public is calling for a people-centered approach to law enforcement. I intend to do my best to meet that demand,” Choo told reporters at the National Assembly following news of her nomination.

Observers speculate that Choo’s nomination signals Moon’s commitment to resolving a growing power abuse scandal through prosecutorial reforms.

As justice minister, Choo would have the power to reshuffle prosecutors currently looking into power abuse accusations against the Blue House, in addition to corruption allegations against her predecessor Cho Kuk.

Prosecutors have been cornering the Blue House with allegations that it wrongly suspended the inspection of a corruption case and influenced a mayoral election.

The presidential office has repeatedly denied involvement in both cases and has shown unease with the prosecution over a string of local media reports that have raised suspicions.

The Blue House is of the view that prosecutors are staging a confrontation.

The judge-turned-lawmaker faces another daunting task -- encouraging the passage of prosecutorial reform bills, fast-tracked earlier and now on the floor for discussion.

The bills include establishing an independent anti-corruption body and realigning prosecutorial and police powers to investigate and indict.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea has been urging the main opposition Liberty Korea Party to retract its decision to stage a filibuster to delay voting on the bills.

Political pundits speculate that Choo will rein in prosecutors who have launched multiple probes into the presidential office.

Choo entered politics in 1996 after leaving the judiciary. She has served in the National Assembly for five terms. From 2016 to 2018, she was chairperson of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, and Moon was elected president during her leadership.

Asked how she plans to work with Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl, Choo declined to go into detail, saying, “I will address that later at some point.”

“What’s between Yoon and me, I think, is irrelevant here,” Choo said.

By Choi Si-young (