Withdraw Cho’s nomination
The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Those in the ruling camp — the Blue House, Democratic Party (DP) and their supporters — have turned testy after their prized political protégé, justice minister nominee Chu Kuk, became the target of a progressive prosecutor general they handpicked to assist Cho to see through prosecution reforms. People with and without public titles have all attacked the prosecution as if it was a rogue institution. DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan criticized it for “causing social unrest” and Kang Ki-jung, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, accused it of leaking information on the nominee. There is a criminal term “mistaken self-defense,” referring to a situation when a person uses force and causes serious or fatal injury to another by “perceiving” a fear of imminent physical harm that, objectively, doesn’t exist. The ruling camp’s attack on Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl falls into the very category of “mistaken self-defense,” as their fear is obviously unreasonable.
Yoon’s appointment was strongly contested by the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), which raised neutrality questions because of his merciless clampdown on wrongdoings of past conservative administrations. The LKP feared that the prosecution would serve the liberal Moon Jae-in administration and other liberal forces slavishly. That’s why the prosecution’s sudden investigation of Cho raised serious doubts about its genuineness at the start. But the mood has changed. Given the bafflement of the ruling party — and remarks from those familiar with Yoon — it is too early to underestimate his resoluteness to spare no one in investigating. He may not go easy on Cho.
Yoon’s investigations have a common feature. Under his leadership, the special investigation bureau of the prosecution chased the National Intelligence Service’s election rigging and wrongdoings of impeached President Park Geun-hye to the end. He did not stop even upon orders from his bosses — the prosecutor general, justice minister, or the president. Persistence has made Yoon hard. He went after the spy agency’s involvement in the presidential election under Park, who had been elected through the vote. At the time, his bosses could not deter him. Even when he was demoted as a result — and his wife miscarried under stress — he vowed not to be “loyal to a person behind power.” He was not someone who would go lightly on Cho just because President Moon cherishes him.
Yoon also acts with conviction. The allegations about Cho involve questions about the suspicious way his daughter entered college and received scholarships and the way his family-run school foundation and private equity fund have been managed. Cho signed into the dubious fund while he was serving as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. Moon supposedly condemns influence peddling. The alleged “blind fund” Cho invested in after cashing out his stock holdings was exclusively invested in by six members of the Cho family, including his wife and two children. After suspicion was raised about the family fund, Cho offered to donate the entire sum to society.
A senior presidential secretary involved in such dealings could be in violation of the government employees ethics law for using government information for personal gains. Unlike common equity funds, Cho’s fund invested entirely in state procurement projects like street lights or wi-fi infrastructure in Seoul.
While handing over the certificate of appointment, the president told Yoon to be equally strict on the ruling power, whether it be the Blue House, government or ruling party. The president must remember his words. He must withdraw the nomination of Cho, who has the potential of becoming a criminal suspect. Moon must no stall.
Prosecutor General Yoon hasn’t wavered. He is unlikely to compromise with the powers that be. He had prosecuted two former presidents and a former Supreme Court chief justice. He won’t likely make an exception for Cho. Moon must not forget that it is the people who sail the boat — and can choose to tip it over.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 2, Page 30