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Presidential office ups pressure on prosecution

The friction between the presidential office and the prosecution is deepening, with both sides accusing the other of wrongdoings in the developments surrounding high-profile investigations.

On Monday, the presidential office revealed that it had referred a petition claiming that human rights violations occurred in the investigation into former Minister of Justice Cho Kuk to the National Human Rights Commission. 

Supreme Prosecutors` Office in Seoul. Yonhap
Supreme Prosecutors` Office in Seoul. Yonhap

In making the revelation, the presidential office said that the commission said that a probe could be launched if it deems that human rights of Cho and his family occurred in the prosecution’s investigations.

Although the presidential office did not request the commission to determine whether there were human rights violations in the investigation, the move has been interpreted by some as an attempt to lay the grounds for pressuring the prosecution.

The revelation comes a day after a failed attempt by the prosecutors’ office to search the office of the presidential secretary for balanced regional development in connection to the allegations that the presidential office interfered in 2018 Ulsan mayoral election.

However, Cheong Wa Dae refused to cooperate, saying that the prosecutors were acting outside the law. The presidential office claimed that the prosecution did not specify the scope of the search and information they are after in the search warrant. The presidential office also said that the investigators drew up a list of such items on site, making the list unlawful as it had not been reviewed by the court that issued the warrant.

For its part, the prosecutors’ office has claimed that the officials sent to the presidential office on Sunday followed protocol.

In addition to discord over investigations, the presidential and prosecutors’ offices are clashing over the recent reshuffle of high-ranking prosecutors.

Last week, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae carried out a reshuffle of top prosecutors including the heads of key branches such as the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. In doing so, a number of prosecutors with close ties to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl were pushed out, inciting strong criticism from the opposition bloc and from within the prosecutors’ office.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party has accused the administration of dictatorial rule, saying that such attempts to control the prosecutors’ office is unprecedented. As expected, the ruling Democratic Party is supporting the reshuffle, saying that the changed reflect the public’s desire to see the prosecutors’ office become fairer and more transparent.

A number of prosecutors’ have also spoken out, accusing Choo and the presidential office of using prosecutorial reform as an excuse to oppress the organization.

The public is just as divided, with a survey conducted by the local pollster Realmeter showing a near-even divide.

In the poll, 47 percent of the respondents disapproved of the reshuffle and 43.5 percent gave their approval. The 3.5 percentage point gap between the two sides is within the poll’s 4.4 percentage point margin of error.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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