The ruling camp is putting pressure on Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol, criticizing his “disobedience” to the justice minister, who replaced his key aides leading investigations targeting the presidential office.
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae told the National Assembly that Yoon did not express his opinion on her plan to reshuffle senior prosecutors even after she asked him to. “He disobeyed my order,” she said.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon told her to take necessary action. This is an effective instruction to take procedures for disciplinary action against the prosecutor general.
Lee Hae-chan, leader of the ruling party, said Friday that the prosecution’s disobedience cannot be tolerated.
A ruling party spokesperson said it was arrogant and rude of Yoon to defy the president’s authority over personnel affairs. “It is serious indiscipline in public service. He must be governed strictly,” the spokesperson said.
The words, “disobey” and “order,” sound inappropriate and authoritarian for the justice minister of a democratic state to use. They arouse an impression of a king telling his subjects, “how dare you?” People would have hardly expected to hear those words from a political camp who takes pride in fighting authoritarian regimes for democracy.
They argue the prosecution must be placed under “democratic control” because it has lost public confidence. However, the reason why it lost popular trust was that it wielded investigation rights, influenced by an incumbent regime. This is why prosecution reforms must start with the guarantee of its political independence. But Choo’s reshuffle of Yoon’s key aides is far from such reforms.
Actually, not only Choo but also Cheong Wa Dae secretaries who sketched the reshuffle plan are involved in allegations against figures close to President Moon Jae-in. They are in a position to be probed but they reassigned those who will investigate them. It is absurd. By any reckoning, the reshuffle aimed at grounding the investigations.
The ruling camp argues the justice minister exercised her personnel authority legitimately and that Yoon disobeyed her order. This argument looks like an attempt to deflect criticisms over the reshuffle and press Yoon to resign. Choo reportedly instructed her aides to examine ways to discipline the prosecutor general.
The Prosecution Service Act requires the justice minister to consult the prosecutor general about a reshuffle of prosecutors beforehand in a bid to guarantee the prosecution’s independence. The Justice Ministry customarily sends a reshuffle draft to the prosecution to collect the prosecutor general’s opinion. But Choo did not follow the custom and the regulation actively.
Choo said she had summoned Yoon to her office for consultations over her reshuffle draft, but she gave him just a 30-minute notice before the prosecution personnel committee started the process to finalize the plan.
She effectively gave him no time to discuss the plan beforehand and asked his opinion as a formality. Yoon refused such cosmetic consultations. Yet, Choo criticizes him for disobeying her order.
In 2013 when Yoon was excluded from a prosecution team investigating suspicions of the intelligence agency rigging online comments, Choo, then an opposition party lawmaker, rebuked Prime Minister Chung Hong-won in the National Assembly. “Can the prosecution produce convincing investigation results now that the government has reassigned the prosecutor who did his job properly? You are pulling out all the stops to win favor with the president (Park Geun-hye).” Choo is now doing what she said to the prime minister.
She also instructed the prosecution to get her prior approval if it wants to create a task force to investigate certain allegations. This means she will block the prosecution’s attempt to create a task force to keep up ongoing investigations into allegations against the president’s cronies. This is a controversial instruction to restrict the prosecutor general’s right to conduct discretionary investigations.
When it comes to investigations into figures close to President Moon, the ruling camp is almost paranoid. One cannot but wonder why it is so scared of investigations.
Those with power can suppress investigations for a while. But they cannot cover up suspicions for good.