Justice minister hit for trying to kick chief prosecutor out
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae is under fire for trying to investigate Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl over allegations that he conducted "unfair" probes into high-profile corruption and fraud cases. Choo has invited the ire of the prosecution and the public because her move could be seen as a reckless attempt to force Yoon out of the law enforcement agency.
On Tuesday, the justice ministry sent two junior inspectors to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office to conduct face-to-face questioning of Yoon without any notice. Yoon refused to come in for questioning, arguing that the ministry had failed to take proper procedures.
The ministry needs to be cautious in questioning the top prosecutor. It should first secure sufficient and concrete evidence before investigating him. In every respect, it is reckless and irresponsible to investigate Yoon only because of some vague allegations against him.
It is also rude to send junior inspectors to probe the law enforcement chief. The ministry should have sent senior inspectors to treat Yoon with courtesy and respect. We have to ask why Choo and her ministry are trying to put Yoon under investigation without following regulations and norms.
Choo has accused Yoon and the prosecution of targeting only ruling camp officials and politicians in the fraud case of two asset management firms, without investigating opposition lawmakers. That is why she ordered her ministry to investigate Yoon, claiming he had blocked prosecutors from investigating the case properly.
But she needs to realize she has gone too far in attacking Yoon. She even denounced him for tainting the prosecution with his political ambitions after he topped the list of most favored presidential candidates in a recent opinion poll. Many people, however, believe that it is not Yoon, but Choo, who has damaged the reputation of the prosecution with her politically motivated moves to control the agency. She cannot deflect criticism for abusing her authority in trying to control the prosecution and force Yoon to resign. Her moves can only undermine the rule of law.
Since her inauguration as justice minister in January, Choo has waged a battle against Yoon's anti-corruption campaign. Yoon must have fallen out of favor with the powers that be because he was taking the lead in investigating President Moon Jae-in's confidants, including former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, over their alleged involvement in bribe taking, influence peddling and election rigging.
Lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) have joined the fight in an apparent bid to protect themselves from possible investigations over corruption allegations. They have also strived to weaken Yoon's power in the name of prosecutorial reform. It is regrettable that the government and the DPK are engrossed in protecting corrupt officials and politicians.
We urge Choo and the lawmakers to stop their offensive against Yoon. Instead of trying to force Yoon out, they should make concerted efforts to guarantee the prosecution's independence and political neutrality. They can never ensure the rule of law if they keep seeking to control the prosecution and tame prosecutors.