Choo, Yoon will meet but agreement is not expected

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Choo, Yoon will meet but agreement is not expected

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl are scheduled to hold their first face-to-face meeting today at the ministry building in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, at which they’re expected to discuss a major reshuffle of senior prosecutors, part of Choo’s drive to reform the prosecution.

The big question is how much attention Choo will pay to Yoon’s opinions. Choo, a five-term lawmaker, was appointed justice minister last Thursday, filling a position that had been vacant for more than two months since her predecessor Cho Kuk stepped down amid a massive probe by the prosecution into his family’s alleged academic fraud and financial wrongdoings.

At an appointment ceremony last Thursday, President Moon Jae-in urged Choo to “successfully lead the reform of the prosecution” and Choo responded with a vow to complete the mission.

Rumors about a major reshuffle swirled last week when sources in the prosecution and the Justice Ministry told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday that personnel changes were likely as early as this week.

They said several high-level officials, including heads of high prosecutors’ offices, will probably be replaced this week, followed by another reshuffle of lower-level officials next week.

The vetting process to appoint new senior prosecutors was said to have begun before Choo even attended her parliamentary confirmation hearing on Dec. 30, raising speculation that the new justice minister wouldn’t pay much heed to Yoon’s opinions today.

During her confirmation hearing, Choo stressed that a reshuffle in the prosecution was “needed” in order for the organization to “regain public trust.”

A Justice Ministry official said Monday that Yoon and Choo were expected to meet today in Choo’s office, which would be their first time holding a one-on-one conversation. The reshuffle topic is expected to “naturally” pop up, the official noted.

Under the Public Prosecutors’ Office Act, the justice minister is required to hear the prosecutor general’s opinion about personnel decisions, and some experts believe that Choo will talk with Yoon only to abide by the law.

A meeting of the so-called prosecution personnel committee of the Justice Ministry, which discusses high-level personnel issues, is expected some time this week.

“The Justice Ministry and Supreme Prosecutors’ Office used to exchange drafts of personnel decisions several times to fine-tune their differences, then reach a final conclusion between the justice minister, prosecutor general and the Blue House all before a prosecution personnel committee meeting is held,” said a lawyer who formerly worked as the chief of a district prosecutors’ office.

“Now, it appears the [justice minister] isn’t even trying to hear the prosecutor general’s opinions, and this is completely without precedent.”

Three probes related to current or former Blue House aides are underway: on former Justice Minister Cho, allegations that the presidential office meddled in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election, and suspicions that the Blue House ordered a cover-up of bribery accusations against a former vice mayor of Busan.

BY KIM KWANG-WOO, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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