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New Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office chief vows full-fledged probe into first lady

Lee Chang-sook declines to give details on whether he plans to summon, question first lady

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : May 16, 2024 - 15:07

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Lee Chang-soo, the new chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office talks to reporters on the first day of his work on Thursday. (Yonhap) Lee Chang-soo, the new chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office talks to reporters on the first day of his work on Thursday. (Yonhap)

The new chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office on Thursday pledged to take “all necessary measures” to carry on its ongoing probe into the luxury bag scandal involving first lady Kim Keon Hee, disregarding criticism from the opposition party regarding his appointment.

The latest vow comes a few days after the Justice Ministry’s surprise personnel reshuffle announcement on Monday, which replaced the now-former chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office Song Kyung-ho with Lee Chang-soo, the former head of the Jeonju District Prosecutors’ Office, who is viewed as a close aide to President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Song was initially in charge of leading the high-profile investigation into Yoon’s wife launched earlier this month, before the shakeup that also relocated four other deputy chief prosecutors to other positions.

Amid public concerns that the shakeup was the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s attempt to hinder the probe into the first lady, Lee told reporters on the first day of his work that the investigation will be “carried out properly and in accordance with the law.”

"Regardless of the personnel reshuffle, what (the prosecution) must do will be carried out properly and accordingly with the law and principles,” Lee said in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in southern Seoul.

“I'll take all necessary measures to prevent any disruptions to the investigation," Lee said in front of reporters.

On the question of whether he plans to summon the first lady, Lee said “It is difficult to give any details (on the matter) at this stage (of the probe),” but vowed to take “necessary measures” after reviewing the case.

Lee added he could not agree with the main opposition labeling him as “Yoon’s aide,” explaining that it is a term used in political circles. He said the description disregarded his 23-year-long career as a prosecutor.

“I first started to work as a rookie prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office 23 years ago and have made efforts to do my best (throughout my career),” he said.

Lee declined to give details on whether there were sufficient discussions of the personnel reshuffle with Prosecutor General Lee One-seok, saying that the ministry and other prosecutors have “always cooperated well” with the top prosecutor on “all matters.”

In line with Lee Chang-soo’s remarks, Justice Minister Park Sung-jae told reporters on his way to work earlier in the day that the investigation would not be influenced in any way by the latest reshuffle, while highlighting the minister’s “rightful” and legal authority to carry out such personnel shakeups.

Prosecutors on Tuesday summoned and grilled for 12 hours Korean American pastor Choi Jae-young, who is accused of using a spy cam to film himself gifting a luxury Dior handbag valued at 3 million won ($2,210) to Kim Keon Hee in September 2022 -- 11 days after the probe was launched. Choi is charged with violation of the anti-graft law, trespassing and obstruction of official duties.