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Prosecutors' backlash intensifies against justice minister's suspension of prosecution chief

This photo shows the building of the Supreme Prosecutors Office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
This photo shows the building of the Supreme Prosecutors Office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Prosecutors around the country held emergency meetings to discuss the justice minister's unprecedented move to suspend and discipline the chief prosecutor over allegations of his interference in sensitive investigations, legal sources said Thursday.

Earlier in the day, six top district prosecutors pleaded with Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae to rethink the decision in a statement posted on the online bulletin board of the prosecution.

They expressed concerns over perceived risk of political neutrality of the prosecution and said that the prosecutor general's term should be legally guaranteed as it is designed to protect the prosecution from undue "political interference."

They also questioned whether the minister's recent series of orders to ban Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from being involved in controversial investigations was "carried out in a prudent and restrained manner."

Twenty-seven senior prosecutors at the Supreme Prosecutors Office in Seoul also issued a statement, calling for the decision to be rolled back, followed by a series of other groups expressing similar concerns.

Their worries echoed the sentiment expressed by a group of rank and file prosecutors the previous day.

On Wednesday, two groups of prosecutors, in Seoul and Busan, issued statements in protest of what they call Choo's "illegal and unjust" measure.

"Justice Minister Choo's action seriously undermines the rule of law and violates the independence of the prosecution," a group of prosecutors in charge of research and planning at the Supreme Prosecutors Office said in a statement.

They requested the minister withdraw the decision so that prosecutors can fulfill their duties "in accordance with the Constitution and conscience."

Prosecutors of the eastern branch of the Busan District Prosecutors Office also held a meeting Wednesday and said the decision was "unjust" because "the facts have not been fully confirmed."

Meanwhile, the justice ministry said it will convene a seven-member committee next Wednesday to decide the level of disciplinary action against Yoon, and that it asked Yoon or his lawyer to attend the meeting.

The top prosecutor filed a lawsuit against the decision with the Seoul Administrative Court in the afternoon, less than a day after he sought an injunction to stop the suspension decision from taking effect.

In the complaint, he argued that the allegations against him raised by the minister are largely untrue and exaggerated. While issuing an item-by-item rebuttal of the suspicions, he also said that, even if true, they are not serious enough to merit suspension of duty.

"Unilaterally seeking disciplinary measures and suspending duty practically means a dismissal, which disregards the term system (of the prosecutor general), democracy and rule of law," he said.

One of the most serious allegations against Yoon is that he ordered illegal inspections of judges involved in controversial cases.

Prosecutor Sung Sang-wook, who drafted a document allegedly carrying illegally gathered information on the judges, argued that there was nothing unusual about the document, which he argued was created based on materials gathered through legal sources, including media reports.

But the ministry countered the argument, saying that it includes information that had not been in the public domain. (Yonhap)
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