An ominous startIn his inauguration speech on Monday, Lee Seong-yun, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, urged his junior prosecutors to “exercise their power to indict criminals discreetly” to protect the rights of the people. “At every step in investigations, you have to think again and judge if your indictments are appropriate,” he said. He also underscored the need to concentrate prosecutors’ capabilities on cases that relate to the public’s everyday lives, rather than politically charged cases. He never mentioned the public’s obvious interest in probes into various types of corruption in officialdom.
We are ashamed to see a top prosecutor deliver such an unprecedented message on the first day of his assignment. Who would not interpret it as an instruction to exercise self-restraint in ongoing investigations of the Moon Jae-in administration?
Lee was promoted to head the mighty Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office after serving as head of the prosecution bureau of the Ministry of Justice, which has orchestrated a massacre of the prosecution led by Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. Lee’s persistent emphasis on the need for prosecutorial reforms in the past — and his call for prosecutors’ self-restraint on indictments — cannot but be interpreted as an intent to put the brakes on the prosecutor general’s ongoing investigations of several criminal cases involving the Blue House.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has been probing suspicions about the Blue House’s possible meddling in the Ulsan mayoral election last year to help President Moon Jae-in’s old friend win the race and a myriad of suspicions over former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, an icon of the liberal camp. In an alarming turn, the head of the largest prosecution office in Korea is telling his subordinates to stop investigations into such explosive cases. If the Ministry of Justice carries out a follow-up reshuffle of the prosecution, investigations of the Blue House will certainly go down the drain.
Lee, who graduated from the same law school as Moon, aided him as head of a special inspection team when Moon was a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs in the Roh Moo-hyun administration. While serving as head of major posts in the prosecution, Lee often clashed with mainstream prosecutors by demanding a prudent approach to criminal cases involving the Blue House.
Lee has left the strong impression that he will serve the Blue House from now on. It needs to be seen how he may embody what he promised in his inauguration speech: to achieve high-quality criminal law services. But first, he must not forget that bringing justice and exposing corruption around the powers that be is what the public wants most from the prosecution. We fear Lee will leave an inexpungible stain on the integrity of the prosecution.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 14, Page 30