Friction between Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl appears to have subsided, after hitting a point where President Moon Jae-in had to summon them together to call for cooperation on prosecution reform.
Ever since the minister took office in January, Choo has clashed with Yoon over myriad issues, from a personal reshuffle that relegated Yoon’s key lieutenants at the prosecution office, to investigations into scandals involving former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and presidential aides.
Their feud showed signs of abating on Sunday when Yoon accepted the minister’s instruction to assign the 2010 bribery case involving Han Myeong-sook, who was the country’s first female prime minister, to the inspection headquarters of the Supreme Prosecutors’ office, which is in charge of investigating and punishing irregularities by staff prosecutors.
In what the ruling Democratic Party of Korea called a “disobedience of Choo’s order,” Yoon previously had ordered the head of the human rights department of the Seoul Prosecutors’ Office to lead the investigation following a petition over alleged fabrication of evidence and power abuse.
Speaking at the first inter-agency anti-corruption council meeting of this year held on Monday, President Moon urged the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutors’ Office to cooperate closely in running a joint task force dedicated to protect human rights during criminal procedures.
“Since the two powerful organs willingly started the initiatives, they must cooperate with each other and prepare a bold reform measure to make the people feel actual change,” he said.
Still, some ruling party politicians sided against Yoon.
The Democratic Party criticized Yoon for exceeding his authority by going against the minister’s instruction and trying to conceal irregularities of prosecutors while conservative groups denounced the ruling party for putting pressure on Yoon to step down with a year left until the end of his term.
On June 19, Rep. Sul Hoon of the ruling party said that Yoon should step down for continuously showing a confrontational attitude toward the government. To avoid criticism, party leader Lee Hae-chan urged lawmakers and other party members refrain from commenting on Yoon.
They could face another rocky road ahead as the justice minister is expected to conduct a sweeping personnel reshuffle in the prosecution in July. Speculation has also been rampant over looming restructuring of the agency as a party of reform aimed to expand the authority of police in criminal investigations and scrap the prosecution’s power to command probes.
By Park Han-na (email@example.com