(2nd LD) Moon says 'procedural justification' is important over prosecution chief's fate
(ATTN: UPDATES with additional message, postponement of panel session, more background info in paras 10-11, 14-16; ADDS photos)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in has emphasized the importance of "procedural justification and fairness" in deciding whether to discipline South Korea's top prosecutor over his alleged wrongdoings, Cheong Wa Dae said Thursday.
With regard to the operation of a related disciplinary committee against Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, Moon said, "Procedural justification and fairness are very important," according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok.
The president pointed out the "gravity" of the matter, he added in a statement.
Moon's message came ahead of a session of the panel to discuss the issue.
Moon requested that the public "calmly" keep watch on the results of the meeting without making any hasty forecast, Kang said.
Moon was apparently responding to a host of local news reports on his speedy appointment Wednesday of Lee Yong-gu, a lawyer known to have worked at his presidential campaign camp, as new vice justice minister.
The previous day, Lee's predecessor, Koh Kee-young, abruptly tendered his resignation in apparent protest against the move to punish Yoon.
Koh was supposed to chair the disciplinary panel session, which is now postponed to Dec. 10.
Some media construed Moon's quick pick of Lee as part of what they call a premeditated scheme to dismiss the recalcitrant top prosecutor.
Critics argue that the committee is inherently designed to rubber-stamp a strong punitive step against Yoon.
Moon was also quoted as saying that it can be an option not to entrust Lee with the task of chairing the panel to help ensure the proper procedures. Having assumed the vice ministerial post earlier Thursday, Lee is a member of the seven-seat committee.
Cheong Wa Dae has already made clear that Moon "can't give any guideline" on the disciplinary process led by the ministry, the presidential spokesman stressed.
"The position that there's no guideline will be maintained" until the disciplinary committee reaches a conclusion, Kang said.
It marked Moon's first public message on the boiling controversy over whether Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae's decision to seek a disciplinary measure against Yoon is appropriate.
Not long after Cheong Wa Dae's statement, the ministry said it would put off the formal discussion till Dec. 10 to protect Yoon's "procedural rights" and his "right to defense" as he has requested. It was initially slated for last Wednesday.
On Nov. 24, Choo announced a call for disciplining Yoon, saying her ministry has confirmed "multiple allegations of serious misconduct." Those include "illicit" inspections by state prosecutors of judges handling politically sensitive cases under Yoon's leadership, the minister said.
Choo and Yoon have long been wrangling with each other, as the minister has come to the fore in the Moon administration's prosecution reform drive.
Choo believes that the prosecution service is pushing excessively for investigations into high-profile scandals, involving some of Moon's close confidants, under Yoon's leadership in a bid to block the reform.
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