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Justice minister, top prosecutor continue battle in court

Supporters of Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl protest outside the Seoul Administrative Court on Monday. (Yonhap)
Supporters of Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl protest outside the Seoul Administrative Court on Monday. (Yonhap)

A hearing on Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl’s suit to suspend Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae’s order removing him from duty was held Monday, kicking off the legal and procedural battle between the two. The court’s decision was expected late Thursday or early Friday.

On Nov. 24, Choo announced her decision to remove Yoon from duty, citing the results of a Justice Ministry audit. According to the ministry, the audit found a number of irregularities in Yoon’s conduct since taking office, including surveilling judges on politically sensitive cases including that of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.

Choo also said the audit concluded that Yoon had interfered with the Justice Ministry’s audit of him, as well as with investigations concerning former Prime Minister Han Myoung-sook and alleged collusion between a journalist and a ranking prosecutor.

After the hearing held at the Seoul Administrative Court, which lasted about one hour, Yoon’s representative said the continued suspension of the prosecutor general would lead to “major damage to the public good.”

“Unrecoverable damages, and documents on judges were main points,” Lee Wan-kyu, Yoon’s representative, said, adding that he believes the court will make a “wise decision.”

Lee also rebutted the allegations that Yoon ordered judges involved in high-profile cases to be surveilled, claiming the documents were compiled as part of routine procedures. He said learning about judges before a trial is a standard part of preparations, and that information gained in the process was not going to be used for surveillance of the judges.

The lawyer representing the Justice Ministry rebutted the claim that Yoon being suspended would lead to “unrecoverable damage,” and that there is no need to suspend Choo’s order as follow-up measures will be decided Wednesday.

The Justice Ministry is set to hold a disciplinary committee meeting on Wednesday. The committee will decide whether Yoon’s alleged actions warrant penalization, and the severity of the penalties if deemed necessary.

If the committee opts to remove Yoon from office, lifting the suspension issued last week will have little impact.

Meanwhile, the audit the Justice Ministry cited in suspending Yoon has come into question, with a prosecutor who worked on the audit claiming that the ministry deleted a key part of the report.

According to the prosecutor, Lee Jeong-hwa, the report stated that Yoon allegedly ordering for information to be collected on judges is not a criminal offense, but that this part was deleted by the ministry. The ministry, however, claims that no part of the report has been deleted.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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