LKP’s Hwang demands Moon face investigationHwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the main opposition party, demanded Thursday that President Moon Jae-in must submit to the prosecution’s investigation into suspicions that the Blue House was behind a controversial police probe, which swayed public sentiment to help his longtime friend to win the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election.
“President Moon’s silence is a tacit acceptance of the charges,” Chairman Hwang of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) said during a leadership meeting. “Is he trying to play dumb during the rest of his term and erase traces? If he has nothing to hide, the president must submit to an investigation.”
The prosecution spent the last two months investigating suspicions that presidential aides had helped Song Cheol-ho to win the election in June 2018 by triggering a police investigation into his rival, then-Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon, for possible corruption just three months before the race in order to sway public opinion.
On Jan. 29, 13 people including Song, Ulsan Vice Mayor Song Byung-gi and former Ulsan Police Chief Hwang Un-ha were indicted on charges of election law violations.
Former Senior Presidential Secretary for Political Affairs Han Byung-do; former Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Baek Won-woo and former Presidential Secretary for Anticorruption Park Hyoung-chul were also among the indicted suspects.
The prosecution questioned former presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok late last month but stopped the investigation until after the April general elections to avoid any political repercussions.
Hwang urged the prosecution to resume the probe. “We need an investigation into the mastermind that is President Moon,” he said, arguing that evidence will be destroyed and testimonies will be coordinated in the coming weeks.
Hwang also attacked Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s latest plan to divide the prosecutors into two groups - one in charge of investigation and another for indictments. “The administration will do anything to cover up the wrongdoings of Moon associates,” Hwang said.
Hwang’s remarks are the latest attack on the Moon administration, particularly Choo, over the handling of the Ulsan mayoral election probe. Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a group of liberal lawyers and a longtime supporter of Moon, issued a statement on Wednesday to condemn Choo’s recent decision to reject the National Assembly’s request for the full text of the indictment against the 13 people.
“The Justice Ministry’s decision to reject the full disclosure of the indictment starting with this particular case has politicized the issue,” Lawyers for a Democratic Society said in the statement. “The administration needs to listen closely to the criticisms that it has downplayed the gravity of this case and its responsibility to the people.”
While the Justice Ministry refused to fully disclose the indictment, citing the privacy of the 13 suspects, a local newspaper, the Dong-A Ilbo, obtained the 71-page text and released it last week in the interest of the general public.
Lawyers for a Democratic Society also said the alleged meddling by the Blue House and public servants in an election is a serious charge. “If the truth and responsibilities were revealed through a trial, they must be held legally and politically accountable,” it said. The statement followed its member Gwon Gyeong-ae’s criticism that the charges stated in the indictment are enough grounds for presidential impeachment.
A former head of the Seoul Bar Association, Kim Han-kyu, also rejected Choo’s argument that the ministry will not disclose the indictment to protect the rights of the suspects. “In 2018, 719,980 people were indicted, but the National Assembly asked to see the indictment documents of less than 100 high-profile figures,” said Kim. “The people’s right to access information trumps their privacy.”
In a related but separate development, the prosecution assigned the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office on Wednesday to launch an investigation into the LKP’s petition that Choo had abused power of her office by refusing to disclose the indictment document.
As Choo makes public a series of radical and controversial measures to weaken the prosecution’s powers, anxiety is growing inside the ruling Democratic Party (DP). They worry she is inviting unnecessary criticism toward the administration before the April 15 general elections.
“It appeared that she didn’t communicate with the Blue House or there was no consultation between the party and the government,” a first-term DP lawmaker told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday. “She is just acting based on self-assertion. It is bad for the election to give an impression to the public that the Justice Ministry and the prosecution are always fighting.”
Others said Choo was acting aggressively for her presidential ambition. They said Choo is trying to complete the reform campaign of the prosecution in order to win the support of Moon loyalists.
“I heard that she has a meticulous plan for her presidential ambition,” said a DP lawmaker. “But the justice minister cannot do her own politics. She must consider how her actions will affect the elections.”
While some DP lawmakers said it was unavoidable for Choo to present reform measures because it is part of a presidential agenda, many still worry that they are losing supporters. “When I meet voters in my district, many said they voted for me and President Moon although they define themselves as conservatives, but they are now saying that they cannot vote for us because of the Cho Kuk crisis and Choo’s behaviors,” said a lawmaker representing a district in Seoul. “We are facing a serious aftermath.”
It remains to be seen if the DP lawmakers will publicly express their disapproval of Choo’s latest actions. “We have things to say, and we will say when the Legislation and Judiciary Committee opens a meeting,” said a DP lawmaker.
“When the extraordinary session opens on Feb. 17 and the party will hold the general assembly of lawmakers, many will definitely comment on the situation,” another lawmaker said.
BY SER MYO-JA, KIM HYOUNG-GU [firstname.lastname@example.org]