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Moon hits back after Yoon says he will probe ‘deep-rooted evils’

President demands apology, but opposition accuses Moon of election interference

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends a luncheon at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends a luncheon at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday. (Yonhap)

President Moon Jae-in hit back Thursday at opposition presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol’s statement that he would order a probe into Moon’s government for corruption and irregularities if elected president.

“I am deeply resentful of (Yoon’s remarks) accusing this government as subject to corruption investigations without any evidence. I demand his apology,” Moon was quoted as saying by Park Soo-hyun, senior presidential secretary for public communication.

“Does (Yoon) mean that he had ignored the irregularities of this government when he was serving as the chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office and prosecutor general? Or does he mean that he is going to make up corruption that does not exist? He should give an answer.”

Moon’s remark on Thursday is the second denouncement to come from Cheong Wa Dae against Yoon since the People Power Party candidate’s interview with a local daily newspaper was released on Wednesday.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Yoon was responding to a question on whether he would investigate into the Moon administration, to “eliminate deep-rooted corruptions and irregularities.” The question echoed the language of Moon when he announced his intention to investigate the conservative administrations that had preceded his own.

“Of course there should be (an investigation). The investigations would be conducted according to the (proper legal) system,” Yoon said.

Yoon formerly served as prosecutor general under the Moon administration. He had been the lead prosecutor investigating the corruption scandal involving ousted former president Park Geun-hye.

Under the Moon administration, Yoon was promoted to prosecutor general and had spearheaded probes into Moon’s predecessors, including Park and Lee Myung-bak, as part of the government’s campaign to “eradicate wrongdoings of the past.”

However, Yoon became at odds with the liberal government when he launched an investigation into Cho Kuk, one of Moon’s closest aides, and is now the presidential hopeful of the conservative opposition People Power Party.

In the interview, Yoon also refuted the concern that his vow may be taken as a warning of political vendetta. In response, Yoon asked, “Was I carrying out a political reprisal (against Moon’s predecessors) for the Moon administration under the president’s order?”

“(The investigations) conducted at the start of (Moon’s) government were in accordance with constitutional principles, but probes into their corruptions and wrongdoings are political revenge? I don’t think so,” Yoon added. 


Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party speaks to reporters after an electioneering event in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party speaks to reporters after an electioneering event in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Political vendetta vs. election intervention

Yoon’s remarks immediately drew fire from the ruling bloc.

“I have never seen a presidential candidate vowing to carry out a political vendetta (against their predecessor) in the many presidential elections I have watched,” Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, said after an electioneering event on Thursday.

“We should pursue social integration for advancement in the future. I think this sentiment of revenge, hatred and conflict can really put society in danger.”

The main opposition People Power Party maintained that Yoon’s remarks are purely sticking to principles.

People Power Party chief Lee Jun-seok also claimed that Moon’s public denouncement of Yoon was “clear interference” into the presidential election.

“Our party’s candidate had impartially carried out investigations on offenders regardless of all governments, and spoke of the principle that Moon’s government is also not free from investigations if they did wrong. And Cheong Wa Dae is steaming over (the remark),” Lee said on his Facebook.

“Flying off the handle over a statement of principle and trying to put a dent on the main opposition party’s presidential nominee is clearly an act of election interference.”

Yoon’s campaign team also expressed regret about Moon’s demand for an apology, calling it an attempt to distort Yoon’s intentions as a “political vendetta.”

The presidential office, however, said Yoon should also have made efforts not to involve the president in the election talks.

“They do not have the explanations to why (the president’s denouncement) is an intervention. The president exercised his right of reply to a statement attacking him. Should the president withhold his rights, and stay silent like a vegetable to such a remark?” a senior presidential official said.

“The president delivers a clear demand for an apology, and if Yoon apologizes, the conflict will easily resolve.”

Politically planned remark

Experts say Yoon’s remark promising a probe on a predecessor is clearly a political statement, aimed at swaying the public with the idea of “regime change.”

“I believe Yoon’s interview is intended to gain support, highlighting the need for a regime change,” Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University, told The Korea Herald.

If that idea spreads among the public, it will also be easier for Yoon to pressure Ahn Cheol-soo, the presidential nominee of the minor opposition People’s Party, to unify with his campaign, Shin said.

“His statement is not a mistake, and it is intentional.”

Park Sang-byung, a political critic and visiting professor at Inha University, also agreed that Yoon’s statement is “politically planned,” but said it should be seen as a “misstatement” for the candidate.

“It was incautious of Yoon to promise a prosecutorial investigation, because it is a job of the prosecution, not a former prosecutor general,” Park said.

While Yoon may have sought to unite Moon’s opposition forces and secure their support with the remark, it also triggered strong backlash from Moon‘s supporters and the liberal bloc, Park said.

“Yoon’s statement reflects ‘old politics.’”

Park also said it was appropriate for Moon to make a statement against Yoon, for his remarks and lack of reaction from the presidential office may lead to misunderstandings from the public.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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