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[Newsmaker] Top prosecutor to fight suspension in court

Unperturbed by justice minister’s offer to resign, Yoon continues head on against ruling bloc

President Moon Jae-in (right) speaks during an anti-corruption policy meeting in June, which Presecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (left) participated. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (right) speaks during an anti-corruption policy meeting in June, which Presecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (left) participated. (Yonhap)
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl is taking legal action to overturn his two-month suspension from office, which took effect Wednesday night upon receiving presidential approval.

Lee Wank-kyu, a legal representative for the prosecutor general, told reporters in a statement Thursday that Yoon’s defense would file for an injunction from the Seoul Administrative Court to halt the suspension order.

The injunction request will be submitted electronically after working hours as it is impossible to prepare sooner, Lee said. Within the same day or a day later, Yoon’s attorneys are expected to file a separate action with the same court to have the order overturned.

The top prosecutor had pledged to take legal action to fight the “illegal and unfair” suspension, handed down by the Justice Ministry’s disciplinary committee early Wednesday and approved by President Moon Jae-in 14 hours later.

The Blue House announced that Moon had approved Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s recommendation to penalize Yoon, conveying his hope that the order would “serve as an opportunity for the prosecution to right itself.”

The disciplinary panel deemed Yoon responsible for four of the six allegations brought against him. The chief prosecutor has denied all allegations from the outset.

The committee found Yoon responsible for surveillance of the judiciary, interference in a controversial case involving a TV journalist and failure to maintain political neutrality. The panel decided to not to impose disciplinary actions for the other two allegations.

Yoon’s defense is planning to rebut the disciplinary committee’s ruling while emphasizing the panel’s questionable proceedings.

The top prosecutor’s attorneys said their motions to disqualify two committee members ended in failure and they were forced to make a statement under “unreasonable” time constraints.

While the suspension remains in force for the time being, Yoon could return to his post in less than two months depending on the outcome of the legal action he is pursuing.

Yoon was originally suspended from his post Nov. 24. But after the Seoul Administrative Court granted an injunction lifting the suspension, Yoon returned to work, prompting Choo to take the case to a higher court for review.

The presidential office declined to comment on Yoon’s pledge to take legal action, as the prosecutor general is targeting Choo and the Justice Ministry in its action, not the president.

The top prosecutor’s continued conflict with Choo seems to have come to an end with Choo’s offer to resign Wednesday, but Yoon remains in conflict with the ruling party and the incumbent administration.

Choo and Yoon were at odds for almost a full year, with the justice minister at the forefront of the Moon administration’s drive to weaken the prosecution’s power.

With Choo potentially gone from her post, Yoon still faces difficulty with the incumbent administration, which is accused of trying to dominate the prosecutors’ office and of taking revenge on Yoon over investigations into a number of scandals involving key officials.

In a statement sent to reporters, Yoon’s defense said the chief prosecutor will move forward with legal action regardless of Choo’s offer to resign, which has been under review by Moon since it was made Wednesday evening.

Moon lauded Choo for her “determination and push” to finalize the “reform of authoritative agencies, including the prosecution” and for following through on her vow to launch the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, according to the Blue House.

Following Wednesday’s developments, the ruling Democratic Party is increasing pressure on Yoon, with some hinting that he could face investigation by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials once it is launched next year.

Democratic Party lawmakers are asking Yoon to resign along with Choo, arguing that Moon has hinted he should do so and that Yoon should end the conflict by complying.

“Suspension is a heavy level of penalization, so Prosecutor General Yoon should accept the punishment in a serious manner,” said Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo in a radio interview Thursday. “I think he should make a determination when he has to for the prosecution he himself loves dearly.”

With Yoon warning that he will challenge the suspension regardless of whether Choo resigns, ruling party lawmakers say Yoon is waging war with the president and those in power.

“If the fight until now was between (Yoon) and the Justice Ministry and Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, the fight has now spread to between Yoon and the president who appointed him to the post,” said Kang Gi-jung, former presidential secretary for political affairs, in a radio interview Thursday.

“By now, Yoon should make a decision. Aside from whether he needs to resign, he should be contemplating why he was penalized.”

Yoon is expected to continue his fight against the Moon administration with the support of his fellow prosecutors.

“The procedural right and the right to a defense pledged by the Ministry of Justice itself were not provided, and the procedural fairness that the president emphasized didn’t become a reality,” said a group of prosecutors in a joint statement Wednesday.

“The move is seriously damaging the prosecution’s political neutrality maintained through appointing prosecutor generals by terms and its independency to act in accordance to the law, so it must be corrected.”

Opposition party politicians also expressed support and gratitude for Yoon in light of Moon’s decision.

“The punishment for Prosecutor General Yoon was a forcibly made one,” said Kim Chong-in, interim leader of the main opposition People Power Party.

“Yoon said he will be filing an injunction to halt the suspension, and it is nationally embarrassing to find the president and the incumbent prosecutor general fighting in court.”

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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