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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 2)

All News 06:56 November 02, 2020

Embrace criticism humbly
Justice minister should not try to control prosecution

More prosecutors are voicing their opposition to Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae's attempt to control the prosecution. The backlash has become stronger since Choo recently clashed head-on with Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl over issues related to corruption cases and prosecutorial reform.

On Wednesday, Lee Hwan-woo, a prosecutor at the Jeju District Prosecutors' Office, triggered a row with Minister Choo by uploading a post critical of her on the law enforcement's intranet. He criticized her for abusing her rights to appoint, command and inspect prosecutors. He pointed out that Choo's drive for prosecutorial reform has failed from the beginning.

Lee's writing is a reminder of his sheer frustration at Choo's move to tame the prosecution. In fact, she has been on a collision course with Yoon, who was waging an anti-corruption campaign against the inner circle of President Moon Jae-on over alleged bribery, election rigging and influence peddling.

Choo has raised the ire of not only prosecutors but also the public for her unwarranted attempt to prevent Yoon and his agency from investigating her predecessor, Cho Kuk, and other confidants of President Moon, over corruption allegations. Her predecessors had refrained from exercising their power to command the prosecution directly over any specific criminal cases, in order not to intervene in law enforcement.

But Minister Choo is not hesitant to use such power. Choo invoked the power last month for the second time in an apparent bid to put more pressure on the prosecution to investigate opposition politicians over high-profile fraud cases involving asset management companies. She has also ordered her ministry to investigate why Yoon's agency has targeted mainly ruling party lawmakers and Moon's aides.

Against this backdrop, the Choo-Yoon clash culminated during the National Assembly's audit of the government in late October. Choo attacked Yoon for not conducting fair and thorough investigations into fraud cases involving Optimus Asset Management and Lime Asset Management, which are suspected of having lobbied political heavyweights, regulators and bureaucrats to hide their illegal schemes. Yoon countered by saying he was not the justice minister's underling who only followed her orders.

Under this situation, more than 200 prosecutors have commented in support of Lee's criticism against Choo's undue efforts to control the law enforcement agency directly in the name of prosecutorial reform. Their right to free speech should be respected. Choo should have listened to their voices humbly. Yet her response is inappropriate.

As Lee argued, Choo should take the blame for betraying the true purpose of prosecutorial reform: to guarantee the prosecution's independence and political neutrality. On her social media account, she said, "Only reform is the answer if you come out (against me)." Her line could be interpreted as a threat to demote Lee in retaliation. It might also be intended to silence any dissenting voices.

What Choo should do as justice minister is not fight against Yoon and the prosecution. She and her ministry should work with them. Otherwise, the country can never succeed in prosecutorial reform and achieve the rule of law.

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