Three peas in a pod?Kim Jin-tae, former deputy prosecutor-general, was nominated as the new prosecution chief yesterday. The swift naming, coming just three days after a committee recommended four candidates for the job, was aimed at quickly stabilizing the troubled top law enforcement agency. Now the question is whether Kim has the will and ability to maintain the political independence of the prosecution.
The Blue House said the appointment was made to gain people’s trust by normalizing the shaky law enforcement agency through fair and thorough investigations into hot political cases under suspicion. The presidential office’s decision is understood as a move to fill the leadership vacuum left by the resignation of ex-Prosecutor-General Chae Dong-wook last month amid controversy over his love child.
Kim, who led special investigations of corruption by various high government officials before he retired, ran the prosecution smoothly when he was the acting prosecutor-general, after Han Sang-dae stepped down last November because of alarming internal divisions in the prosecutor’s office over how to address government corruption. But opponents to his nomination cite his hometown in South Gyeongsang Province - the same as Kim Ki-choon, the presidential chief of staff - as a problem, and the opposition Democratic Party claims the chief of staff is “attempting to control the prosecution by sending one of his proxies to the top prosecutorial post.”
The biggest challenge for the prosecution is how to attain political neutrality. Following the resignation of former Prosecutor-General Chae over allegations of an extramarital affair and the abrupt dismissal of the chief of a special investigation unit looking into the National Intelligence Service’s alleged political activities during last year’s presidential election, controversy over silent interventions into the prosecution has been growing.
The prosecutor-general nominee must make it clear at his confirmation hearings how he will uphold the prosecution’s political independence and push ahead with long-awaited reforms. He must come up with a detailed action plan - not merely a vow - to free the top law enforcement agency from political influence. Above all, he must encourage his subordinates to thoroughly investigate the NIS’s alleged meddling in the election. The results of the investigation will serve as a measure of Kim’s will to recover the prosecution’s independence.
If the new nominee passes the National Assembly’s scrutiny and yet fails to earn the people’s confidence, we can hardly expect the prosecution to stand alone. If he really aspires to become a successful prosecutor-general, he must sever ties with the old world. Kim must not forget that his pride and capability face a big test.