Independence and political neutrality a must
The highly publicized tension between the justice minister and the chief prosecutor over an investigation into an alleged blackmail case has avoided a head on collision. Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl accepted Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae's order to recuse himself from an ongoing investigation by the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office. The justice minister accepted this as "belatedly" befitting the people's demand for a just probe. In a way, each has taken one or two steps back to defuse a full-blown confrontation.
With that, the government and the justice minister who has become the second in history to invoke authority to command the chief prosecutor regarding an investigation, should ensure Yoon completes his two-year tenure through July 2021. Once highly championed by President Moon Jae-in who appointed him for his principles-charged investigation even into powers that be, Yoon has incurred the administration and the ruling bloc's wrath over investigations of administration insiders including the now indicted former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.
The concerned case involves alleged collusion between an ex-reporter, a jailed financier and a senior prosecutor close to Yoon to disclose possibly incriminating information on pro-Moon Jae-in pundits. After the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office investigation got underway, Yoon requested the convening of an expert advisory panel by the Supreme Prosecutors' Office to review the case. Justice Minister Choo intervened July 2, ordering a suspension of that process in particular because of the close relationship between Yoon and the senior prosecutor under investigation.
With the dust having settled for now, the Seoul Central District team should look thoroughly and fairly into the case that is being billed as "prosecution-press collusion," referring to the relationship between the two that can grow too cozy for comfort.
By accepting the justice minister's order, some say the top prosecutor's leadership has taken a hit. Former top prosecutor Kim Jong-bin in 2005 resigned after accepting an order from then-Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae to investigate without physical detention of a professor who made a controversial remark about the Korean War.
The justice minister's further invocation of her authority to intervene in investigations is expected. But her actions have been scrutinized by some as an attempt to deter the chief prosecutor from investigating the administration's inner circle. As the Moon administration heads on with its pledge to reform the prosecution, it should ensure political neutrality and independence of the prosecution. Frequent intervention from the Ministry of Justice does not align to this.
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