It’s up to the prosecutor general
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Cho Kuk apparently wants to use his power as the minister of justice to obstruct Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl’s investigation into him. It was revealed that Cho made an attempt — on his first day in office — to exclude Yoon from the investigation. Reports were also made that Cho plans to replace the general affairs bureau chief of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office — who has the right to control the budget of the prosecution — with someone who is not loyal to Yoon.
Some say it is unbelievable that Cho behaved in such an underhanded way, but the suspicion is legitimate since his words from the past and his actions today are different. Only one week ago, Cho said he will make sure that the right of Seoul National University (SNU) students to learn won’t be excessively infringed upon. But immediately after becoming justice minister, Cho applied for a leave of absence.
SNU accepted Cho’s request despite students’ persistent opposition. In the past, SNU was never such a school. It seems that those in power are scary. They have the power to secretly hit the weakness of their opponents before resorting to the law. It just takes a second for those with power to become monsters, but the people can hardly see the dramatic transformation. When they offer sugarcoated words and smiles, the people must not fall for such charm offensives and instead look at the ground to see which direction the powerful politicians’ feet are headed.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is why the opposition parties, the media and civic groups must not give up the job of monitoring the powers that be. Sometimes, the current power falls on its own because it fails to sustain its own weight. The rise and fall of power is illustrated so well in the story of Zhao Gao in ancient Chinese history.
Zhao Gao was a eunuch and an official of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. to 206 B.C.). An expert in criminal law, he was a close aide to Emperor Qin Shi Huang — the first emperor of a unified China. When Zhao was in charge of maintaining carriages, documents and the emperor’s seal, he secretly revised the emperor’s edicts and changed the heir to the throne.
After winning power, he took ministerial power and controlled the Second Emperor, Qin Er Shi. With his volubility and by using cruel punishments, he managed to erase the system established during the rule of Qin Shi Huang.
He managed to kill political opponents such as General Meng Tian and Chancellor Li Si and took the entire state. He even threatened the Second Emperor after finding fault with his weaknesses and forced him to commit suicide. Although Zhao Gao tried to become emperor himself, he could not do so. Instead, he installed the third and last emperor Ziying. The new emperor assassinated him.
The life of Zhao Gao led to an old saying, “calling a deer a horse.” It was derived from an incident involving Zhao’s loyalty test.
He brought a deer and presented it to the Second Emperor, but called it a horse. The Second Emperor was surprised and said, “The chancellor is perhaps mistaken because he called a deer a horse,” and questioned the officials around him. They, however, answered that it was a horse, hoping to ingratiate themselves with Zhao. This is a true story, recorded in The Records of the Grand Historian.
When he was justice minister nominee, Cho stressed that a suspicious private equity fund — 100 percent invested in by his family — was a blind fund. If he is summoned by the prosecution in the future, he may say that his family managed the fund, not himself.
When President Moon Jae-in appointed Cho, Moon said he did so to uphold principle. Many were heartbroken by the remark. Moon and Cho are both calling a deer a horse. They probably wanted to see who would really say that it is a deer. The lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party agreed with Moon and Cho in fear of losing nominations in the upcoming general elections. In the process, Moon and Cho were likely happy with the outcome of the loyalty test.
The prosecution led by Yoon is perhaps the only institution that can lay bare the truth. We hope that this law enforcement agency won’t be threatened by powerful politicians. Cho’s cousin’s son was taken to the prosecution a few days ago. It was fortunate that he was forced to return to Korea based on the prosecution investigation, not based on a trade between the prosecution and the administration.
Prosecutor General Yoon is an investigator, not a politician. Even if the world calls a deer a horse, he must order venison.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 16, Page 30