Moon orders probe into shady dinner

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Moon orders probe into shady dinner

President Moon Jae-in ordered Wednesday the prosecution and the Ministry of Justice to inspect a dinner hosted by a senior prosecutor and director of the ministry, during which they gave envelopes stuffed with cash to each others’ juniors.

Moon, who took office last week, expressed his determination to overhaul the prosecution throughout his campaign. The latest presidential order is the fifth of its kind since his inauguration.

Local media reported earlier this week that Lee Young-ryeol, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, and Ahn Tae-gun, director of the Criminal Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, had a dinner on April 21. Several prosecutors from Lee’s special investigation team, which probed the abuse of power and corruption scandal of former President Park Geun-hye, accompanied Lee. Two officials from Ahn’s bureau also joined.

“Ahn gave the prosecutors envelops of cash, each containing 700,000 won [$625] to 1 million won,” said Yoon Young-chan, senior press secretary of Moon. “Lee gave 1 million won each to two managers of the ministry. The ministry officials returned the money the next day to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.”

Yoon said the Justice Ministry has no minister since Kim Hyun-woong stepped down in November in the aftermath of the presidential scandal, and that its vice minister is acting as minister. “The source of Ahn’s gifts, why he gave them and whether this is legal must be investigated,” Yoon said.

Lee’s special investigation team was facing criticism at the time of the dinner because it did not look into an alleged connection between Ahn and Woo Byung-woo, former civil affairs senior secretary of the Park Blue House.

An independent counsel team handed over a record of more than 1,000 phone calls between Ahn and Woo from July to October, when Woo was the target of a corruption probe.

Woo was later indicted by Lee’s team on charges of abuse of power, obstruction of justice and professional negligence, including an allegation that he had turned a blind eye to the influence over state affairs Park gave her friend, Choi Soon-sil. Woo was also indicted without physical detention, after the prosecution’s request for a warrant was rejected by a local court. Critics feel the prosecution’s request was designed to fail.

Woo is the only suspect in the Park-Choi scandal who has managed to avoid jail.

Yoon also pointed out that the two managers of the Criminal Affairs Bureau whom Lee gave money to are key officials of the Justice Ministry in charge of prosecutorial appointments. “It was appropriate for them to return the money,” Yoon said, “but an investigation is still necessary as to why Lee gave the money to them.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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