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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 10)

All News 07:06 January 10, 2020

Reshuffle of prosecutors
Ongoing investigations likely to be hampered

The Ministry of Justice has conducted a sweeping reassignment of 32 senior prosecutors, including those who are believed to be close to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl.

This came after the National Assembly passed a controversial bill on creating a new investigative body that would exclusively handle corruption cases involving high-ranking public officials ― including prosecutors and judges ― despite strong protests from the prosecution. A separate bill on readjusting investigative rights of the prosecution and the police in ways to reduce the prosecution's power is awaiting a parliamentary vote, and it seems highly likely to also be passed very soon.

We note that Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae visited President Moon Jae-in at Cheong Wa Dae just before the reassignment was made public Wednesday night. Choo, as supervisor of the prosecution, had reportedly asked Yoon to visit her with his opinions about the shake-up plan, but he did not do so, regarding her request as only a "formality." Choo, a former judge, publicly denounced Yoon, Thursday, for "disobeying" his supervisor, saying she waited for him for six hours, but he did not show up.

So it is widely believed that the reassignment of prosecutors close to Yoon demonstrates that President Moon has lost confidence in the "defiant" prosecutor general. This is because they had led investigations into high-profile scandals involving former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and some presidential aides. They include Han Dong-hoon, who was in charge of an investigation into alleged irregularities by Cho and his family, and Park Chan-ho, who led a probe into allegations that Cheong Wa Dae intervened in the 2018 mayoral election in Ulsan to help President Moon's close friend Song Cheol-ho win. Park was also in charge of a separate investigation into suspicions that the presidential office covered up a bribery case involving former Busan Vice Mayor Yoo Jae-soo. The prosecution believes former minister Cho was also deeply involved in the alleged election meddling and cover-up.

There seems to be no argument that the reshuffle reflected the general perception among Moon's supporters and liberal politicians that the investigations into Cho Kuk and the presidential office were motivated by "political" prosecutors to deter reform and protect their vested interests. Given that Cho, a law professor, was the architect of the reform plans and that the Korean prosecution has a shameful history of political intervention, their claims that these probes have been "unfair and excessive" are partly understandable. However, it is true that the ongoing investigations will lose momentum due to the reassignments. It is also not hard to imagine how frustrating the replacements are for Yoon and his followers.

Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party say the President has the legal right to appoint senior prosecutors and there was nothing wrong in the way the reshuffle was conducted. But we can hardly deny that they are the biggest beneficiaries of the reassignments.
(END)

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