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Justice minister issues ultimatum to prosecutor general

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (Yonhap)
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (Yonhap)

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae issued an ultimatum to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol to respond by Thursday morning to her directive to forgo his authority to supervise an investigation in the case involving a senior prosecutor known to be loyal to him.

“A week has passed. I will wait one more day until tomorrow 10 a.m.,” Choo said in a statement released by the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday.

Choo has been exerting pressure on Yoon after having a disagreement over who should oversee the prosecution’s investigation into allegations that Han Dong-hoon colluded with a journalist in an attempt to frame a leading liberal figure with corruption.

In a rare move, Choo on July 1 exercised her legal right to intervene in the case, saying it is to guarantee the independence of the team probing the case at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, apparently from the influence of Yoon. Choo and Yoon have been at odds over a raft of issues, most importantly, how to reform the prosecution.

She also ordered to suspend the convening of an expert advisory panel that was formed to review the validity of the investigation into the collusion between Han, a senior prosecutor and a close ally of Yoon, and Lee Dong-jae, a reporter from Channel A.

Prosecutors have been investigating suspicions that Han and Lee collaborated to threaten a businessman serving a jail term, to tip him off about corruption involving Rhyu Si-min, a liberal pundit with close ties to the Moon Jae-in administration.

“Work should be separated from personal life. Righteousness can’t go along with impropriety,” Choo said.

The panel review was suspended but Yoon called in senior prosecutors across the nation to gather opinion on Choo’s action and how the prosecution should react.

On Tuesday, Choo, a former judge who served five terms as a lawmaker, urged Yoon to follow her direction, reminding him of the justice minister’s authority as the top supervisor who takes the ultimate responsibility of prosecution affairs.

Debates have been heating up over how to interpret articles of the Prosecutors’ Office Act, which specifies the authorities and duties of the justice minister and the prosecutor general.

The Justice Ministry cited Article 8, which reads: “The Minister of Justice shall, as a chief superintendent to supervise prosecution affairs, direct and supervise prosecutors in general, and with respect to specific cases, direct and supervise only the prosecutor general.”

But critics say her interventions could have violated Article 12, which says the prosecutor general “takes charge of affairs of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, exercises overall control over prosecution affairs, and directs and supervises public officials in the prosecutors’ offices.”

By Park Han-na (