Yoon attacked for resistance to major reshuffle
“The president has authority over the appointments of district prosecution office heads,” said Chairman Lee Hae-chan of the Democratic Party (DP) during the ruling party’s leadership meeting Friday morning. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the insubordination committed during the process of the recent prosecution reshuffle.”
The Ministry of Justice announced Wednesday evening that 32 senior members of the prosecution will be moved to new posts as of Monday. Many of the prosecutors investigating abuse of power and corruption allegations against key members of the Moon administration were reassigned to irrelevant posts, and Yoon’s closest aides were effectively demoted.
While the law requires the minister of justice to consider the opinion of the prosecutor general when reassigning prosecutors, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae paid little heed to Yoon’s views.
The Ministry of Justice said Wednesday that Yoon was a no-show for a planned meeting with Justice Minister Choo before the reshuffle was announced, but the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said the ministry gave Yoon barely any notice of the meeting.
The prosecution said the ministry informed Yoon at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday to show up for a meeting in an hour, but Choo was scheduled to hold an appointment committee meeting at 11 a.m. It said the 30-minute meeting would have been a political show, not a substantial discussion, if Yoon had actually met Choo.
“[Yoon] reportedly made various complaints and criticized the justice minister for having failed to respect the procedure,” Lee said. “It is unacceptable for him to say the minister skipped a process [of listening to the prosecution’s opinions].”
Lee said Choo had a phone conversation with Yoon for over an hour to discuss the appointment plans and Choo also asked him to express his opinion numerous times.
“If the prosecutor general has something to say, he should have paid a visit to the minister’s office to present his opinion,” Lee said. “It is an obstruction of the justice minister’s business for proposing a meeting at a third location.”
Lee’s remarks were in line with Choo’s comments before lawmakers on Thursday. At the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, Choo defended her reshuffle of the prosecution leadership and accused Yoon of disobedience.
At the committee meeting, lawmakers from the opposition Liberty Korea Party said Choo had violated the Prosecutors’ Office Act by not listening to Yoon’s opinion about the reshuffle, but Choo said she had given him ample time and opportunities to express his views.
“The appointment of prosecutors and assignment of positions to prosecutors shall be made by the president upon the proposal of the minister of justice,” reads Article 34 of the Prosecutors’ Office Act. “In such cases, the minister of justice shall make the proposal to assign prosecutors to positions, considering the opinion of the prosecutor general.”
“I did not violate the Prosecutors’ Office Act,” Choo said. “The prosecutor general disobeyed my order.”
She also said the reshuffle had its basis on the president’s right to make appointments of senior public servants. “If [Yoon] wants to express his opinion on each and every single appointee, that is an infringement of the presidential authority,” Choo said. “He wanted to see the specific appointment plans, but I could have not shared them with him unless the president confirms it.”
DP Chairman Lee stressed Friday that the controversy is the very reason why the administration wants to reform the prosecution. “Taking this opportunity, the prosecution must truly reform itself and go back to its original jobs.”
Lee’s comments were the latest warning to the prosecution. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon on Thursday made clear that he won’t accept any resistance.
“It is extremely regretful that the prosecutor general, a public servant, rejected the justice minster’s request to listen to his opinion,” Lee said in a press release. “The justice minister is the highest supervisor of the prosecution. She should assess the situation properly and take necessary countermeasures.”
Speculation grew that the Justice Ministry may conduct an inspection into Yoon based on the prime minister’s order to the justice minister to take a necessary measure. Prosecutors immediately voiced concerns on Friday.
“It was the minister who made an inappropriate order,” said a prosecutor. “Calling it insubordination is unreasonable.”
Other prosecutors said it was Choo who failed to respect the long-held tradition to consult the prosecutor general before a reshuffle. “If the ministry conducts an inspection, it will be to pressure Yoon to step down voluntarily,” a prosecutor said. “As long as he did nothing wrong, he must not resign.”
“If the ministry inspects Yoon, that will be abuse of power,” said another prosecutor. “The only case where the Justice Ministry tried to use an inspection of a prosecutor concerned former Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook.”
In 2013, the Park Geun-hye administration threatened an inspection into Chae over an allegation that he had an illegitimate child. Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered an inspection, saying that an ethics scandal involving a public servant could damage the reputation of the prosecution.
Chae stepped down from his post one week after media reports of his extramarital affair and before the inspection was actually carried out. He served in the post only 164 days.
BY SER MYO-JA, KANG KWANG-WOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]