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‘Prosecutor General’s legal counterattack is against President Moon’

As Yoon decides to fight 2-month suspension, conflict deepens between top prosecutor and the president

Signs and flowers are placed in front of the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, on Thursday in support of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. With the two-month suspension under effect, the prosecution is under the leadership of acting Prosecutor General Cho Nam-kwan. (Yonhap)
Signs and flowers are placed in front of the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, on Thursday in support of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. With the two-month suspension under effect, the prosecution is under the leadership of acting Prosecutor General Cho Nam-kwan. (Yonhap)
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl has taken aim at the president in the latest of his ongoing conflict with the incumbent administration and its close officials.

Yoon’s defense told reporters Thursday that Yoon is fighting the “illegal and unfair” two-month suspension from his post with a lawsuit against President Moon Jae-in, as he is the one who signed and approved the disciplinary action.

“This lawsuit is a complaint against an action from the president, so this is a lawsuit against the president,” said Lee Wan-kyu, a legal representative for the prosecutor general.

Yoon and his defense on Thursday night filed an injunction at the Seoul Administrative Court to halt the suspension order and a separate lawsuit to have the disciplinary order overturned, just a day after the disciplinary action came into effect Wednesday.

Moon 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.”

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. Choo offered to resign from her post Wednesday.

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.

With Choo potentially gone from the post, Yoon and his defense seem to be directly targeting the Moon administration in continuing its legal proceedings.

The disciplinary panel in its Wednesday ruling 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 action for the other two allegations.

Yoon’s defense has argued in its complaint that the disciplinary committee failed to abide by basic procedures in carrying out two hearings against Yoon.

Only four out of seven required members were present for the disciplinary committee, and the committee did not prepare substitute members, which Yoon’s side argued were procedural violations that made the panel’s decision invalid.

Yoon’s attorneys also claimed that the committee made logical errors in its reasons for the penalization.

His defense argued that the committee has made a “baseless claim” in deeming him responsible for surveillance of the judiciary, while arguing that Yoon made a “reasonable order” in searching for expert investigative counsel for the controversial case involving a TV journalist.

The top prosecutor’s side also alleged that the committee unfairly adhered to arguments from high-ranking prosecutor Han Dong-soo in finding Yoon responsible for interfering with the investigation into his close aides for the same journalist-involved case.

Yoon’s defense added that the top prosecutor has never failed to maintain political neutrality, saying speculation and rumors brought from others cannot be a reason to rule that Yoon hopes to engage in politics.

His attorneys are also working to halt the suspension order by claiming that the prosecutor general suffered “irrecoverable damage” from failing to carry out key investigations during his two-month suspension.

The same logic was used in lifting another suspension order made on Nov. 24.

Yoon returned to work about a week after the order was made, as the Seoul Administrative Court granted an injunction on the suspension, Yoon returned to work, prompting Justice Minister Choo to take the case to a higher court for review.

The Blue House has maintained that Moon and the presidential office is unrelated to Yoon’s legal appeal, despite Yoon’s defense explicitly mentioning its challenge against the president.

“The defendant is not the president, but the justice minister,” a Blue House official told reporters Friday.

Opposition party lawmakers have been seeking to pin the responsibility on Moon and the presidential office, saying the penalization was unfair and illogical.

“In a democratic country where the president can be ousted and penalized, how is asking for an amendment at court on a presidential order the same as engaging a fight with the president?” said main opposition People Power Party floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young in a meeting Friday.

“It is hard to understand the logic behind Democratic Party lawmakers. It only seems like they are ignoring the law and trying to put South Korea into a totalitarian dictatorship under the exclusive rule of the Democratic Party.”

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