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Yoon forges ahead with justice minister appointment against resistance

Opposition party accuses Yoon of ‘ignoring communication’; PM approval may face bumpy road


President Yoon Suk-yeol appointed Han Dong-hoon as justice minister on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol appointed Han Dong-hoon as justice minister on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol appointed Han Dong-hoon as justice minister alongside former lawmaker Kim Hyun-sook as gender equality minister on Tuesday, forging ahead despite fierce resistance from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

The approval provoked an immediate backlash from opposition parties, heralding a bumpy road for the approval of Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo, which requires a vote in the plenary session of the National Assembly.

Shortly after the announcement, the Democratic Party released a statement, lashing out at Yoon’s appointment. Democratic Party spokesperson Shin Hyun-young accused Yoon of “ignoring communication and cooperation” with the opposition party. “(Yoon) should not even ask for cooperation from the Democratic Party,” Shin said.

Han is a close confidant of Yoon. They had worked together when Yoon was the head of the investigation team of the special prosecutor’s office dealing with a corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye in 2017. In the high-profile investigation, Yoon detained Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.

Han also spearheaded investigations into the corruption cases of two former presidents, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, during his time at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. He contributed to the arrests of SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo.

However, after being recommended as the justice minister, he was embroiled in allegations of irregularities in his high school-aged daughter’s academic activities during his confirmation hearing. It is alleged that a scriptwriter wrote the thesis registered in his daughter’s name. Now, the police have launched an investigation into the allegation.

Upon the approval of the two ministers on Tuesday, the selection of only two ministers remain, for education and health.

Kim In-cheol, a candidate for education minister who was caught up in suspicions of preferential treatment for his children, resigned. Yoon is reconsidering the appointment of Chung Ho-young, who was embroiled in similar controversies, for health minister.

Earlier in the morning, Yoon also appointed Rep. Cho Tae-yong of the People Power Party as the administration’s first ambassador to the United States.

Cho is a career diplomat who has extensive experience dealing with the US and North Korean nuclear issues. He served as the first vice minister of the Foreign Ministry and the first deputy director of the National Security Office during the former Park Geun-hye administration.

In November 2016, Cho represented Korea in talks with former National Security Adviser nominee Michael Flynn on North Korea under the Trump administration. Between 2015 and 2017, he held five rounds of Korea-US strategic consultations on North Korea with then-US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken under then-President Barack Obama.

He then entered the National Assembly as a proportional representative in 2020. Most recently, as deputy head of the Korea-US policy consultation delegation for President Yoon, Cho visited the US with foreign minister candidate Park Jin in April.

Peck Kyong-ran, a professor of medicine at Sungkyunkwan University, was selected as the first director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency to replace Jeong Eun-Kyeong, who served under the previous Moon Jae-in administration.

Peck served as a member of the social welfare and culture division at Yoon’s presidential transition committee. She joined the committee at the recommendation of Chairperson Ahn Cheol-soo and played a role in designing a new COVID-19 quarantine system.

From December 2019 to November 2021, she served as the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases chairperson and advised the government on quarantine policy during the pandemic.

In early 2020, she urged the government to restrict the entry of foreign citizens in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak at home. She emphasized the need to strengthen social distancing when the government eased quarantine policies.

Yoon also appointed Kim So-young, a professor of economics at Seoul National University, as vice-chairperson of the Financial Services Commission. Kim was a member of the presidential committee’s economic division. Formerly, she served as a director of the Korean Economic Association and adviser to the Bank for International Settlements.



By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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