Ganging up on the prosecution?The independence of the prosecution cannot be compromised particularly in Korea, where it has frequently been allied with the administration in power. Therefore, the office of the prosecutor-general is a crucial one. Watching the sudden resignation of Prosecutor-General Chae Dong-wook because of suspicions that he had an out-of-wedlock son, we have to question whether this administration has the will to protect prosecutorial independence.
Announcing his resignation from the office after just five months, Chae said he hoped the prosecution would be able to work according to its own conscience without being disrupted and threatened by groundless allegations. Vehemently denying a media report that claimed the 54-year-old prosecution chief had a 10-year-old son from an extramarital affair, Chae tendered his resignation after Minister of Justice Hwang Kyo-an ordered an internal investigation into the scandal. It’s the first time that the justice minister has ordered such an investigation of the incumbent prosecution chief. In essence, he handed Chae a public ultimatum.
Hwang said that the investigation was necessary because the controversy over the ethics of a person in charge of the top law enforcement office could seriously undermine the reputation of the prosecution and confidence in state authority. He said the truth must be uncovered as soon as possible in order to restore confidence and stability in the prosecution. Chae’s order for an internal investigation by prosecutors according to the Justice Ministry Act is legitimate procedure. But Chae has already denied the allegation and announced that he was willing to take a DNA test. We wonder why the minister had to order a separate internal investigation of the suspicions under such circumstances.
If Chae has lied about the extramarital affair and his son, he is not qualified to keep his seat. And if the Ministry of Justice had confirmed that Chae lied, it should have announced that. But the ministry only damaged the prosecution’s name and public confidence in it by ignoring such procedures. The people suspect vengeance against the prosecution chief for ordering investigations into the National Intelligence Service’s meddling in the last presidential election to help President Park Geun-hye. Some also suspect a power struggle between Hwang and Chae. The order for an investigation and Chae’s subsequent resignation undermines the integrity of the prosecution.
If it seems to Koreans that the government has forced Chae out, it would do lasting damage. The opposition is already accusing the president’s office and NIS of ganging up on the prosecution. Prosecutors say they will have to curry favor with the Blue House to survive.
During her campaign, Park promised that she would return the power to prosecute to the people. If she is attempting to tame the prosecution because of its work, that’s a grave problem.