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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 4)

All News 09:02 July 04, 2020

Ensure political neutrality
: Minister should not try to tame prosecution

No one can overemphasize the importance of the prosecution's neutrality and independence from political power. This explains why the government and the ruling party should refrain from interfering with investigations conducted by the law enforcement agency. Yet, the Moon Jae-in administration is doing the opposite to undermine the agency's neutrality.

At the forefront of the government's prosecution bashing is Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae. Since taking the helm of the Ministry of Justice in January, she has served as President Moon's sniper to fire salvos against Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. Her aim is certainly to stop him from investigating high-ranking government officials, including Moon's confidants, over corruption suspicions.

Yoon, an anti-corruption crusader, seemed to have been Moon's trusted prosecution chief until the President appointed his close aide Cho Kuk, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, as justice minister last September. But Yoon invited the ire of Moon due to the investigation into corruption allegations surrounding Cho and his family. At last Cho stepped down as justice minister only 35 days in office, and later was indicted for admissions fraud and other wrongdoings.

Minister Choo's attack on Yoon culminated Thursday when she ordered Yoon to suspend the convening of an expert advisory panel to review a case in which a prosecutor, a close associate of Yoon, is suspected of colluding with a cable channel reporter in pressuring a jailed financier to divulge misdeeds by a prominent pro-government figure.

She has become the second justice minister to invoke the authority to directly command the prosecution in its investigations. The first was Chun Jung-bae who ordered the prosecutor general in 2005 to investigate a professor over his controversial remarks about the nature of the 1950-53 Korean War without physical detention. Then-top prosecutor Kim Jong-bin accepted the order, but immediately resigned in protest against what was seen as the minister's interference in the case.

The 2005 episode demonstrated how important it was to ensure the prosecution's political neutrality and independence. It was a clear reminder that the justice minister, whose mission is to oversee law enforcement, should not directly command the investigation of a special case, in order to guarantee the prosecution's autonomous decisions and fair investigations.

For this reason, Minister Choo should have been more cautious in exercising her authority over the prosecution. Her action is now seen as tremendous pressure on Yoon to step down. Many lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) have already made verbal attacks on Yoon in a thinly veiled attempt to force Yoon out of the agency because he has refused to stop investigating the inner circle of the incumbent power.

It is wrong for the government to try to tame the prosecution chief and his agency. This also runs counter to President Moon's much-avowed prosecution reform. The core part of this reform is to promote the neutrality and independence of the prosecution in order to firmly establish the rule of law.

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