Going against the rules

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Going against the rules

In a surprising development, a senior prosecutor from the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office vehemently — and publicly — protested the way his immediate superior dealt with a criminal case involving former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. The shocking episode reflects the brewing internal divisions at the top law enforcement agency after a massive reshuffle of top prosecutors under new Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae. Choo called it a “deplorable happening.” However, more important are the reasons the situation has reached this point.

Prosecutor Yang Seok-jo, the senior researcher at the top prosecution office, lambasted Shim Jae-cheol — his senior prosecutor and new head of its anticorruption department — with derogatory remarks at a funeral of the father-in-law of one of their colleagues last Saturday. Yang asked Shim, “Are you really a prosecutor?” after Shim insisted on letting former Justice Minister Cho go despite a plethora of evidence showing his involvement in dropping the Blue House’s investigation into alleged corruption of former Vice Busan Mayor Yoo Jae-soo. Shim even allegedly ordered his junior prosecutors to prepare a report justifying his decision to clear Yoo of all charges against him.

An act of discourtesy to a prosecutor higher on the chain of command can hardly be condoned. It is “inappropriate and lamentable behavior,” as Choo said. But we wonder if she really can make such a point, as it all started with her reshuffle of top positions in the prosecution to help block its investigations into apparent abuse of power by the presidential office.

It was Choo who proposed to President Moon Jae-in a plan for a colossal revamping of senior prosecutors across the board. As a result, senior prosecutors and heads of district prosecutors’ offices who have been probing allegations against the Blue House were suddenly replaced with prosecutors friendly to the government. The complaint from Yang comes from new top prosecutors’ overly generous attitudes toward the Blue House.

The prosecution’s indictments of former Justice Minister Cho include several pieces of circumstantial evidence that show that he was involved in asking for special treatment for Yoo together with South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kyung-soo and Baek Won-woo, a former Blue House secretary for civil affairs under Cho when he was serving as a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. Cho allegedly ordered one of his aides to stop investigating Yoo “because he has decided to resign.” Clearing all charges against Yoo even when a court judge in charge of issuing arrest warrants specified his criminal charges does not make any sense.

The Ministry of Justice announced a new plan for reorganizing the prosecution followed by a reshuffling of mid-level prosecutors soon. If Choo presses ahead with another “massacre,” who will believe in the integrity of law enforcement? Is that really what the government seeks in the name of reform? That must start with reasonable appointments. Otherwise, public outrage is certain.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 21, Page 30
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