January 09, 2020 14:06
Cheong Wa Dae reshuffled 32 high-ranking prosecutors on Wednesday. Key prosecutors under Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl were demoted. They investigated major corruption scandals surrounding ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk, and other former Cheong Dae Dae officials as well as allegations over the government's meddling to a mayoral election. The head of the Seoul District Prosecutors' Office was also replaced by a prosecutor who went to the same university as President Moon Jae-in. The move is widely viewed as an attempt to cut off the arms and legs of the prosecutor-general and meddling in the investigation. The demoted prosecutors had been appointed to their positions only six months ago, and there was no reason to demote them other than punishing them for probing alleged corruption by presidential aides. This is exactly what Korean dictators used to do, and now the former democracy activists who so ardently fought them are emulating them now they are in power themselves.
Normally a reshuffle of prosecutors takes place at the recommendation of the prosecutor-general to the justice minister, who then makes a formal request to the president. This process ensures relative neutrality of the prosecution. But this time Cheong Wa Dae and Justice Ministry apparently did not inform the prosecutor-general of the details of the new appointments and merely asked for his opinion at the last minute. When the prosecutor-general baulked, the new appointments were unilaterally announced at night in something very like a cloak-and-dagger operation. This is a brazen affront to the independence of the prosecution. Just recently, the Moon Jae-in administration also bulldozed through a law establishing a separate body that investigates corruption among high-raking public officials so it can be staffed with friendly officials. The government must believe it is now truly above the law.
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae even tried to appoint a civilian lawyer as chief prosecutor, only to be rejected by a personnel committee. Most members of the committee were appointed by Moon, yet that went too far even for them, and they put the brakes on Choo's attempt over concerns about due process.
Choo and the Cheong Wa Dae officials who spearheaded the new appointments are all being investigated by prosecutors. Choo was the head of the ruling Minjoo Party when Cheong Wa Dae allegedly meddled in the election of the mayor of Ulsan and has been under investigation for arranging a meeting between Mayor Song Cheol-ho and Cheong Wa Dae officials. She could end up becoming a suspect depending on what the investigation yields. Other Cheong Wa Dae aides are suspected of instructing police to investigate an opposition candidate and fabricating documents to make it appear as if the son of the previous, fly-by-night justice minister Cho Kuk worked as an intern. Their next step, surely, will be to try and oust the prosecutor-general. When the targets of an investigation can pick and choose their investigators, democracy under the self-described "most democratic administration" ever is in grave peril.
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