Lee Sung-yoon, chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, was expected to be indicted for abuse of authority on Tuesday on the recommendation of a panel of experts. He is alleged to have stopped an inquiry into an illegal travel ban on an ex-vice justice minister.
If indicted, Lee would be the first incumbent Seoul prosecution chief to stand accused in court.
Out of the 13 panel members present -- including law professors, lawyers and those in religious service -- eight voted in favor of Lee’s indictment.
The panel was convened at Lee’s request.
Until a few weeks ago, he was a strong candidate for prosecutor general.
Lee is accused of abusing his authority in June 2019, when he was the anti-corruption chief at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, by intervening to prevent an investigation to determine whether a prosecutor named Lee Kyu-won had broken the law to stop an ex-vice justice minister from leaving the country.
According to the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office, Lee Sung-yoon called the chief of the prosecution’s Anyang branch after receiving a report saying the matter should be investigated, and told him the travel ban had been “discussed between the SPO and the Justice Ministry.”
The report said Lee Kyu-won had signed a request form himself, instead of getting his supervisor’s official seal as required, and had written in a fake case number to get a court order for an emergency overseas travel ban to stop Kim Hak-eui at the airport in March 2019.
Kim had resigned as vice minister of justice after just six days on the job in the former Park Geun-hye administration in March 2013 due to allegations that he had received bribes that included sexual favors. He was acquitted of bribery charges in 2013 and 2015.
A reinvestigation was launched in 2019 over suspicions that Kim received bribes from businessmen and sexual favors brokered by businessmen between 2006 and 2011.
Lee Sung-yoon belatedly showed up for questioning on April 17, after ignoring four summonses from the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office and saying the case should be transferred to the newly established agency that investigates corruption cases against senior officials.
It remains to be seen whether Lee will step down as chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. Several senior officials accused of illegal acts have kept their jobs in the Moon Jae-in administration.
Justice Minister Park Beom-kye is standing trial on charges of assaulting opposition party officials during a scuffle in April 2019, when opposition lawmakers occupied parliamentary committee meeting rooms in an attempt to physically stop the ruling party from fast-tracking electoral and prosecutorial reform bills.
Presidential secretary for state affairs Lee Jin-seok is standing trial on charges of election law violations.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com