Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has strongly denied that her son received preferential treatment in extending his leave when he served as a member of the Korean Augmentation to the US Army.
News media and lawmakers had raised suspicions that her son was granted an extended leave -- two periods of sick leave and one regular leave successively -- in June 2017 thanks to her aide’s phone calls to his unit. At that time, she was chair of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.
She has argued on several occasions in the National Assembly that she had never instructed her aide to call her son’s unit.
The Seoul East District Prosecutors’ Office wrapped up its investigation on Sept. 28, clearing her of wrongdoing. It also decided not to proceed with charges against her son or her aide.
The investigation results appear to be a foregone conclusion. This is why many people posted furious online comments criticizing prosecutors’ inability to “touch” a powerful figure.
According to the investigation results, Choo sent the name and mobile phone number of a South Korean captain of the unit to her aide through KakaoTalk, a mobile messaging app. She was found to have received related replies in a text message from the aide later. The Korean military dispatches officers and master sergeants to US Army units stationed in Korea to process personnel matters involving KATUSA members, including matters of unit assignment, discharge and leave.
These findings do not seem to agree with Choo’s erstwhile argument that she had never instructed her aide to call the unit. Nonetheless, the prosecutors’ office said that it found no clear circumstantial evidence implicating her in the suspected solicitation related to her son’s leave.
The investigation results barely mention a Korean master sergeant, one of the key figures related to the suspicions and the immediate superior of Choo’s son. He put a record in a Korean military administrative system that the parents of the soldier in question -- Choo and her husband -- had filed a request with the Ministry of National Defense.
The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office reportedly demanded a complementary investigation, but the Seoul East District Prosecutors’ Office ignored the demand and rushed to close the case.
The failure to indict the justice minister was anticipated to some extent from the moment she reshuffled the Seoul East District Prosecutors’ Office under the pretext of prosecution reform. She filled its major posts with prosecutors loyal to her.
The case must not be closed this way. An internal inspection of investigators of the Seoul East District Prosecutors’ Office, not to mention reinvestigation, must follow.
Choo wrote a Facebook post Friday saying that she’d just relayed the phone number of the captain from her son to her aide. She insists that the relay was not an instruction to call the number. This is absurd.
If she let her aide know the name and the mobile phone number of the officer, and if the aide called him and then reported to her later, it is common sense to think that she effectively instructed her aide to call the officer.
And if she had no intention of asking her aide to call the officer, why did she send his phone number? Choo should answer this question first.
Her son reportedly argued through his lawyer that he had not talked with the KATUSA soldier in charge of quarters over the phone when he overstayed his leave. But prosecutors found that the charge of quarters had phoned Choo’s son urging him to come back to the unit immediately. Choo’s son lied too.
In her statement on the investigation results, Choo said she felt sorry for worrying the public “due to an unfounded political offensive.”
This is not an apology, but an attack on opposition parties and the news media. On Friday, she threatened to take legal action against them unless they apologized. The investigation results have made her more audacious. To her, it is as if the public’s anger were invisible.