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(3rd LD) Top prosecutor returns to work as court grants injunction to halt his suspension

National 18:46 December 01, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS postponement of disciplinary panel meeting in last 5 paras )

SEOUL, Dec. 1 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction requested by Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl over his suspension, in the first legal decision in a monthslong feud between Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and the top prosecutor.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled that suspending Yoon from duty was tantamount to dismissing him, which damaged the prosecution's core principles of neutrality and independence.

The injunction will remain in effect until 30 days after another court decision is made. Yoon has filed a separate lawsuit against his suspension, along with having sought a preliminary injunction.

Soon after the court's decision came out, Yoon arrived for work at the Supreme Prosecutors Office.

"I will do my best to safeguard the spirits of the Constitution and rule of law," he said before heading to his office for the first time in a week.

While he cleared one hurdle, he still faces an uncertain future, as the ministry will convene a seven-member disciplinary meeting Wednesday.

Lee Oak-hyung, the lawyer for the justice minister, told Yonhap News Agency that he could not understand the court's decision.

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl arrives at the Supreme Prosecutors Office in Seoul on Dec. 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

Earlier in the day, the ministry's inspection committee also took Yoon's side by advising against the suspension during a three-hour meeting, citing "procedural flaws."

The committee unanimously concluded that there were serious flaws in the decision-making process, as Yoon had not been properly informed of allegations against him in advance and had not been given enough time to explain his positions on them.

"Seeking disciplinary measures, suspending him from duty and launching investigations against him were not appropriate," the committee said.

In a short statement, the ministry squarely refuted the committee's findings but said it would "fully take note of the recommendation."

The committee's conclusion, while not legally binding, could work in favor of Yoon during the disciplinary meeting.

The undated file photo shows Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (L) and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (R). (Yonhap)

Early last week, the justice minister barred Yoon from duty as she sought a disciplinary measure against him over six counts of alleged misdeeds, including collecting personal information of justices in charge of cases related to a former justice minister and suspected election interference by presidential officials.

Yoon sought a court injunction Wednesday to stop the unprecedented order from going into effect, and filed a lawsuit the next day.

In the latest twist to the contentious case, Yoon requested in the late afternoon the disciplinary meeting be postponed, citing lack of time to prepare for his case.

Lee Wan-kyu, who represents Yoon, said in a statement that the ministry has not responded to the request for access to documents related to the chief prosecutor's suspension.

"Since we are not able to properly prepare (for the disciplinary meeting), we have requested the date be changed until a later date when the necessary steps are taken," he said, pointing out that the right to defend should be guaranteed.

Yoon also asked to call in three witnesses to explain parts of the allegations against him.

If the ministry turns down the request, they will boycott the meeting on-site, Lee said.

Koh Kee-young, the vice justice minister, offered to resign, in apparent protest against the scheduled disciplinary meeting, which he is required to attend.

The justice ministry soon after announced a decision to put off the disciplinary panel session, originally slated for Wednesday, to Friday. The delay is meant to give Yoon enough time for procedural preparations and protect his "right to defense," the ministry said.

The ministry added it respects the administrative court's verdict, while pointing out that it's an adjudication limited to the provisional measure of an injunction sought by Yoon.

It said it would decide whether a disciplinary step is needed against the top prosecutor through a "faithful review" of the matter in accordance with relevant law and procedures.

The ministry plans to accept Koh's resignation offer and pick his replacement before long.

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl rides in a car on his way to work at the Supreme Prosecutors Office on Nov. 20, 2020. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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