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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 11)

All News 09:33 January 11, 2020

Reform is top priority
: Probes should continue without bias, favor

A prosecution team searched the office of a presidential secretary at Cheong Wa Dae, Friday, to secure documents and files related to its election meddling investigation. This came two days after the Ministry of Justice replaced senior prosecutors responsible for high-profile probes targeting President Moon Jae-in's aides and confidants as part of sweeping reassignments that critics described as a "massacre."

In that the investigations had been led by those who are close to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, the measure was widely believed as a "dismissal notice" to Yoon. However, the prosecution searched the office of Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development inside the government complex in central Seoul, Thursday, and then the office of a presidential secretary working with the committee the next day. The searches were apparently part of an investigation 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. The prosecution suspects the presidential office was behind a plot to raise corruption allegations against Song's rival candidate ahead of the election, and to help Song form his campaign pledges.

The prosecution's move apparently represents Yoon's strong resolve to push ahead with the ongoing probes even though "his hands and legs have been cut off," as the largest conservative Liberty Korea Party described the ministry's action. Cheong Wa Dae said it has no plan to replace the prosecutor general, but the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and Moon's supporters are raising voices for his "voluntary" resignation, portraying him as a man with two faces.

In fact, Yoon was touted as the "best person to lead the prosecution reform" by President Moon when appointed to the top prosecutor in July last year. However, he is now being considered as one of the biggest obstacles in going ahead with reforms by Moon's supporters. The turning point was the prosecution's initiation of a corruption investigation into Moon's former aide Cho Kuk, regarded as the architect of the government's prosecutorial reform plans, and his family. The prosecution believes Cho was also deeply involved in the alleged election meddling as the senior civil affairs secretary at the time.

We still remember what Yoon said during his confirmation hearing. He emphasized that he won't be "loyal to a person," vowing to maintain political neutrality whatever might come. But it is undeniable that the way the Cho Kuk probe was conducted has been quite controversial to the point of spawning suspicions that Yoon was resisting reform and was only trying to protect his organization's vested interest. In addition, as the investigation unfolded, we were able to see again how deep-rooted the prosecution's collusion with politicians and the media was.

As we previously wrote, prosecution reform is the political zeitgeist of this country. This cannot change regardless of how the ongoing investigations end up.

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