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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 2)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:06 June 02, 2021

Breach of neutrality
Moon hit for trying to control prosecution

President Moon Jae-in appointed former Vice Justice Minister Kim Oh-soo as prosecutor general Monday, despite strong objections from the main opposition People Power Party (PPP). It is disappointing that Moon pressed ahead with the appointment without a bipartisan endorsement of Kim.

Regrettably, he has become the 33rd ministerial-level official to take office without the consent of the opposition bloc under the Moon administration. The President should take the blame for breaking his repeated promise to promote bipartisanship by forging cooperative ties with minority parties. Most recently he even proposed the resumption of a consultative body between the government and the ruling and opposition parties.

Kim's appointment once again demonstrated Moon's unilateral governing style has not changed even after the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) suffered a crushing defeat in the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. Moon and his party members have remained arrogant and self-righteous, refusing to respect the different voices from the opposition parties and the public.

Kim's confirmation hearing was held at the National Assembly, May 26. But the hearing ended inconclusively due to wrangling between the DPK and the PPP over his qualifications. The PPP made the case against Kim, arguing that he was unfit for the top prosecution post. It pointed out that Kim's pro-government inclination could hinder fair investigations, particularly into corrupt officials and politicians of the ruling bloc.

Kim has faced allegations that he once worked as a lawyer to defend suspects involved in massive investment fraud cases surrounding the asset management firms Lime and Optimus, and that he received an "undue amount" in legal fees from his clients. For these reasons, the PPP demanded an additional confirmation hearing on Kim to look further into his qualifications. But the DPK turned this down and unilaterally adopted a report on the hearing Monday in the absence of PPP lawmakers, enabling Moon to name Kim immediately.

What's more worrisome is that Kim's appointment could lead to a breach of the political neutrality and independence of the prosecution. Kim proved his loyalty to the Moon government while serving as vice justice minister between June 2018 and April 2020.

He might have played a role in blocking then Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from investigating former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and other confidants of President Moon over allegations of corruption, influence-peddling and election-rigging. Yoon resigned in March to protest the government's move to tame the law enforcement agency in the name of prosecutorial reform after coming into conflict with the powers that be for his anti-corruption campaign.

There is a high possibility that the government will double down on controlling the prosecution to protect core members of the political elite from criminal charges. Skepticism is growing over whether Kim will do his best to promote the prosecution's political neutrality and independence. His two-year term will expire in June 2023, more than a year after Moon's presidency ends in May 2022. It is questionable whether he can remain politically neutral and ensure fair and free competition in the run-up to next year's presidential election.

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