Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl on Thursday lashed out at Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, who had accused him of bias and a lack of sincerity, saying she has no legal authority to deprive him of his powers to lead investigations.
During a parliamentary inspection of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, Yoon said Choo’s decision to sideline him in a high-profile probe into a sprawling financial fraud scandal allegedly involving politicians and incumbent prosecutors was “unlawful and unjust.”
“Most prosecutors and lawyers think that excluding the prosecutor general from specific cases is against the law. It is certain that the rationale and purpose (of the decision) are unjust,” he said.
The remarks came a day after Choo harshly criticized Yoon, saying he owes an apology to the public for being lax in overseeing the probe into Lime Asset Management. She said prosecutors chose to ignore the testimony of a key suspect who claimed to have bribed incumbent and former prosecutors.
Yoon dismissed the accusations that he had ordered prosecutors to dig deep only into the alleged involvement of ruling party lawmakers and other liberal politicians, while overlooking evidence of wrongdoing by prosecutors and politicians from the opposition party.
“I was the one who ordered a thorough investigation from the first. When I was debriefed by a senior prosecutor on the implication of an opposition party politician in the case, I told them to investigate rigorously as I thought it could become an issue in a parliamentary inspection,” Yoon said.
The discord between the two top judicial leaders runs deeper than the ongoing fund scandal. The two have contrasting views on where the prosecution falls short and how to fix it, observers say. While campaigners for prosecutorial reform view Yoon as leading a revolt against the reformist minister, Yoon’s supporters say Choo is trying to tame the powerful law enforcement authority.
“The prosecutor general is not the minister’s subordinate. … Otherwise, the prosecutor general would be nowhere near political neutrality,” Yoon said.
Since July last year, the prosecution has been investigating a massive fraud case centering on hedge fund Lime Asset Management, which caused 4,000 victims to lose an estimated 1.6 trillion won ($1.41 billion).
The Lime case entered a new phase after Kim Bong-hyun, the former chairman of Star Mobility and a prime suspect in the financial crimes, released a handwritten letter via his attorney on Oct. 16 claiming he lobbied three sitting prosecutors and an opposition party politician to cover up the case last year in hopes of evading investigation.
Prior to the disclosure, investigations had centered on ruling party politicians and Cheong Wa Dae officials who were embroiled in the political corruption scandal surrounding Lime. So far, a former Cheong Wa Dae official surnamed Kim and Lee Sang-ho, a Democratic Party official, have been tried on charges of receiving money from Kim.
In a second letter unveiled Wednesday, Kim said prosecutors had continued their probe of other ruling party lawmakers despite his testimony that they had nothing to do with the Lime case.
Questioning Kim’s credibility, Yoon said: “It is absurd to criticize the prosecution based on a statement made by a person who is expected to receive a heavy sentence.”
The ruling party and the Justice Ministry assert that prosecutors forced Kim to give testimony unfavorable to the liberal bloc, while the conservative party said the justice minister was trying to level criticism against the conservative bloc through Kim.
On Thursday, the main opposition People Power Party proposed a bill to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the impact of the fund financial fraud and political corruption suspicions involving Lime Asset Management and Optimus Asset Management.
“Serious doubts have been raised as the government and the ruling party tried to conceal and minimize the cases and they were selective about defendants’ testimonies favorable to them,” the party said in the bill.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org