Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae pledged to reform the prosecution as she took office Friday, calling it the “demand of the times.”
“Reforming the prosecution, which is (seen) as the most difficult (task), has become a demand of the times that nobody can resist,” Choo said in her inaugural speech at the ministry building in Gwacheon, just south of Seoul.
President Moon named on Dec. 5 the five-term lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea to succeed Cho Kuk, who stepped down in October amid the prosecution’s investigations into corruption allegations surrounding him and his family.
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (Yonhap)
Mindful of conflicts between the prosecution and the ministry’s push for prosecution reform, Choo made it clear that the Justice Ministry was the “final supervisor” in the country’s law enforcement system.
“I make clear that restoring the status of the Justice Ministry is a precondition for the prosecution to find its own position,” the judge-turned-politician said. “To restore the public’s trust in the Justice Ministry, I will accelerate the move to free the ministry from prosecutors and to democratically control the prosecution.”
The Justice Ministry’s high-ranking positions have so far been filled by prosecutors.
Choo, however, encouraged the prosecution to overhaul itself.
“We will not treat the prosecution only as a subject of reform, but a companion to carry out the reform,” she said. “There should be voices for changes and reforms from the within the prosecution.”
Choo also said she would take follow-up measures to establish an independent body tasked with investigating and indicting high-ranking officials accused of corruption.
A related bill passed through the legislature earlier this week despite fierce resistance from the prosecution and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.
The prosecution, the country’s most powerful law enforcement agency, has been criticized for holding too much power -- exclusive rights to close investigations and file charges against suspects -- triggering calls for measures to keep it in check.
Curbing the prosecution’s power by handing over more investigative rights to the police and by setting up an independent body to probe corruption by senior officials is one of President Moon Jae-in’s key campaign pledges.
Choo’s appointment is widely expected to add momentum to the liberal administration’s prosecution reform drive.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org