|Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl arrives at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap|
Top prosecutor resigns after clash with ruling bloc
By Do Je-hae
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl's offer to resign, following his continuing conflict with the ruling bloc over the latter's efforts for prosecutorial reform, was accepted by President Moon Jae-in only an hour after it was offered Thursday, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
Yoon has claimed that the moves by the government and ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) were undemocratic and aimed at reducing the power of the prosecution.
"I am offering to resign today," Yoon earlier told reporters after arriving at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul. "The spirit of the Constitution and the system of rule of law are falling apart before our eyes. And it is solely the people that will have to endure the consequences. I can no longer stand by and watch the collapse of common sense and justice that our society has fought so hard to achieve."
The resignation offer came a year and eight months after he was appointed by President Moon in July 2019. Yoon has clashed with the ruling bloc, particularly with the Ministry of Justice under the tenure of former Minister Choo Mi-ae, who stepped down in January after her failed attempt to have him suspended.
Yoon submitted his resignation letter to Justice Minister Park Beom-kye immediately after the announcement, and Moon, who has the authority to appoint and dismiss the top prosecutor, immediately accepted the offer. Cheong Wa Dae said it will begin the procedure for appointing a successor.
The surprise offer came after he strongly objected to, among multiple issues in the prosecutorial "reform" measures, the push by the ruling bloc to establish another new investigative office under the ministry, designed to completely overrule the powers of the prosecution. Yoon criticized the move as an attempt to strip the prosecution of its powers, saying that he would give up his job 100-fold if he could stop it. Yoon's two-year term was to end in July.
Ahead of the push for a new agency, the ruling bloc's prosecutorial reform measures had already expanded the police's power and narrowed the prosecution's investigative scope to six serious crimes. In addition, the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials was set up to deal with corruption cases involving high-level civil servants.
|President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl during an appointment ceremony at Cheong Wa Dae, July 25, 2019. Yonhap|
Now all eyes are on what kind of an impact Yoon may have on the political landscape as the country will hold by-elections for the mayors of Seoul and Busan next month, ahead of the presidential election in March 2022.
During the brief announcement, Thursday, Yoon, who has emerged as a favorite presidential contender among opposition supporters amid his struggle with the Moon administration, stressed "people" and "democracy" and thanked supporters and also those who had criticized him.
"My role at the prosecution stops here. But no matter where I am, I will devote myself to upholding democracy and protecting the people as I have always done. I want to thank everyone who has supported me and also those who have been critical of me," Yoon said.
His behavior is widely seen to signal that he is headed toward a political career, although he did not specifically respond to questions about this. Speculation about Yoon entering politics has been on the rise since October 2020 when he said that he would look for ways to serve the people after his term ended during a session at the National Assembly. On a visit to Daegu, a stronghold of conservative politics, Wednesday, he said it felt like he had come home.
The ruling DPK was critical of Yoon's resignation. "Yoon's inauguration speech where he stressed endless reform for gaining the people's trust has turned out to be false," spokesman Rep. Huh Young said in a statement.
Some in the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) predicted that Yoon will join the opposition bloc. "The resignation should be seen as a declaration to enter politics. Since he has been in conflict with the ruling party, he will not be able to go there. He will probably come to the opposition," Rep. Kweon Seong-dong said.
The presidential office and Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun have reacted negatively to Yoon's scathing interviews this week against the DPK's push to establish the new investigative agency. Cheong Wa Dae urged Yoon to respect the National Assembly and its opinion calmly in accordance through established procedure. "Yoon's behavior is not fitting for someone in an administrative capacity. He acts like someone in politics," Chung said in a media interview, Wednesday.
Later in the day, the presidential office announced a replacement for senior secretary for civil affairs Shin Hyun-soo, who expressed his intention to resign last month after his clash with the justice ministry over the appointments of senior prosecutors.
Kim Jin-kook, an official at the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) and a former colleague of Moon under President Roh Moo-hyun, will replace him.
Shin demanded the ministry and Cheong Wa Dae respect Yoon's opinion in the reshuffle of senior prosecutors, but his call was apparently ignored and the reshuffle was made in a way the ministry wanted.