How to abuse power
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has ordered Han Dong-hoon, a senior prosecutor at the Busan District Prosecutors' Office and close ally of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, to serve as a researcher at the Institute of Justice — a relatively leisurely position for prosecutors in Korea. At the same time, Choo forced Han to be investigated by the ministry. The decisions she made Thursday are suggestive of retribution for Han's loyalty to top prosecutor Yoon, who has been aggressively probing alleged corruption involving key figures in the Moon Jae-in administration. No doubt Choo and other ruling party lawmakers have gone too far in trying to drive Yoon from his position as top prosecutor.
The ruling camp's attacks on Han are primarily based on allegations that he attempted to collude with a reporter from Channel A, a conservative broadcast outlet affiliated with the Dong-A Ilbo, to dig up potential wrongdoings by top government officials through a convict in jail on separate charges. However, there is no clear evidence of Han, the senior presecutor, having intervened in looking for dirt on government officials. Transcripts of their conversations show that Han refused to get involved in helping the reporter gather information on the corruption. Nevertheless, the Justice Ministry is using the frame of collusion between a prosecutor and the press to force out Han.
Even if some suspicions call for an investigation of Han, the ministry approached his case in a suspicious way because the case is being investigated by the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office. It is very rare and abnormal for the ministry to start investigating a senior prosecutor even before a district prosecutors' office has finished an investigation. The Justice Ministry can do that after the results of the Seoul Central District office's probe arrive.
Ruling Democratic Party (DP) lawmakers and other allies of the government habitually said that they would wait until investigation results came in the explosive Cho Kuk and Yoon Mee-hyang cases — involving abuse of power and misuse of public donations, respectively. They even vowed to wait until trials were over. However, they are collectively zeroing in on Han over his alleged collusion case.
As a senior prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office and head of the anticorruption department at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, Han led investigations of alleged corruption of former Justice Minister Cho's family and the Blue House's alleged intervention in the Busan mayoral election in 2018. Han was demoted to minor posts together with other aides of Yoon in January after Choo, a former judge and five-term lawmaker, was appointed justice minister. Some pundits even criticize her for trying to send Han to jail as she is not satisfied with his demotion.
On Wednesday, Choo denounced Han for "trying to lead the top law enforcement agency in his favor by taking advantage of his legal skills." The next day, she ordered her ministry to start investigations of him, threatening to force him out. That constitutes abuse of power.
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