(ATTN: UPDATES with quotes in paras 7-9, 14-15)
SEOUL, Dec. 30 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday nominated a three-term ruling party lawmaker as the new justice minister and picked a Constitutional Court scholar to head a powerful new investigation agency handling corruption by high-ranking officials, Cheong Wa Dae said.
Following the nominations, several of Moon's top aides offered to resign in order to lessen the political burden of the president facing criticism on several key domestic issues.
Moon named Rep. Park Beom-kye of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to replace incumbent Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae. She tendered her resignation earlier this month following a monthslong political tug-of-war with Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl over prosecution reform.
Park started his career as a judge in 1994 after passing the state bar exam and later worked at Cheong Wa Dae as a presidential secretary during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. He was first elected to the National Assembly in 2008.
Cheong Wa Dae credited Park with having strong insight and expertise from his work in the judiciary, government and National Assembly and expected him to complete the work of prosecution reform being pushed by the administration.
If confirmed, Park would be the fourth justice minister under the Moon administration. Park also is in line with Moon's previous justice minister picks without a prosecution career background.
Park said he will "complete prosecution reform by closely listening to the voice of the people."
"There have been many developments in prosecution reform. For the remaining part, (I) will sufficiently collect the opinions of the people, the National Assembly and negotiation body," he told reporters at parliament following the nomination.
The lawmaker also said he will "find an answer" for the prosecution reform drive, which has a history that runs from the administration of former president Roh Moon-hyun to current president Moon.
Moon also tapped Kim Jin-wook, a former judge serving as a senior researcher at the Constitutional Court, as the inaugural chief of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO).
Kim began his career as a judge in 1995 after passing the state bar exam. He later worked as an attorney at the Kim and Chang law firm for 12 years from 1998. Kim joined the Constitutional Court as a scholar in 2010 and served in key positions, including chief of staff, senior researcher and director general for international affairs.
The establishment of the CIO, independent from the state prosecution service, was one of Moon's major presidential campaign pledges. It is part of his government's drive to reform the prosecution often accused of having excessive power and authority.
Moon choosing a former judge, as opposed to someone with a prosecution background, to lead the CIO is seen as reflecting the president's will to push the administration's prosecution reform initiative much further.
Kim acknowledged the weight of becoming the inaugural chief of the CIO.
"I understand the anticipation and the concerns over the launching of the CIO," he said in a statement sent to reporters, adding that he will do his best to prepare for the confirmation hearing.
The CIO is expected to officially launch in January following Kim's official appointment.
Moon also tapped Rep. Han Jeoung-ae, the DP's policy chief, as the new environment minister and picked Hwang Ki-chul, former chief of staff of the Navy, to head the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.
The four new nominees will face National Assembly confirmation hearings, which have yet to be scheduled.
Cheong Wa Dae also announced that three top aides to Moon together offered to resign.
Noh Young-min, the presidential chief of staff; Kim Sang-jo, the president's chief of staff for policy; and Kim Jong-ho, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, all offered to resign, Chung Man-ho, senior presidential secretary for public communication, said during a press briefing.
Noh has served in the position for nearly two years, and Kim, the presidential policy chief, has worked for around 18 months. The senior secretary for civil affairs was appointed merely four months ago.
The moves come as Moon's job approval ratings have markedly dropped to below 40 percent in recent weeks apparently due to public fatigue with the monthslong political tug-of-war between the justice minister and the prosecution chief, soaring housing prices and controversies over the government's COVID-19 vaccine procurement policy, among others.
Chung said the three aides offered their resignations "to alleviate President Moon Jae-in's burden of administration and in hopes for him to use (their collective resignation) as an opportunity to renew the state of government affairs."
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