Choo to meet prosecution officialsJustice Minister Choo Mi-ae will meet with top officials of the prosecution next week to listen to their opinions on her controversial plan to separate prosecutors into two groups - one in charge of investigation and another in charge of indictments.
Conspicuously missing from the meeting will be Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. The Ministry of Justice said Friday that a meeting of regional prosecution office heads on prosecutorial reform measures will be held Friday. The ministry already informed six high prosecutors’ offices and 18 district prosecutors’ offices nationwide on Thursday about the plan and requested the attendance of the chief prosecutors.
According to sources informed about the issue, Choo telephoned Yoon on Wednesday and sought his cooperation to hold the meeting. The phone call took place after Choo announced her plan to introduce a new system to divide the prosecutors into two groups during a press conference on Tuesday.
After announcing the plan without prior consultation with the prosecution, Choo reportedly telephoned Yoon the next day, explained it and requested his support. Yoon will not attend the meeting to be hosted by Choo. Lee Jeong-su, planning and coordination bureau chief of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, will attend the meeting. “We informed the prosecutor general, the chief of the prosecutors, about the meeting plan, and Yoon courteously responded that he won’t attend,” a Justice Ministry official told the JoongAng Ilbo.
Speculation is growing that Yoon’s decision to skip the meeting is a de facto criticism toward Choo’s plan, because he has nothing else scheduled for that day. After Choo announced the measure, Yoon reportedly expressed his opposition. “It is a system that we have seen no precedence of in any country around the world,” Yoon reportedly said about Choo’s plan to divide prosecutors’ roles. “It will create an obstacle to counter cases of high-profile corruption and abuse of power.”
The prosecution tried to avoid the speculation that prosecutors are trying to resist Choo’s reform campaign. “A meeting of top prosecutors hosted by the justice minister has rarely taken place in recent years,” said a prosecution official. “And there was no precedence that the prosecutor general attended such meetings.”
“Yoon could have felt uncomfortable attending the meeting, where senior prosecutors would express their opinions,” said a Justice Ministry official. “We just extended an invitation, but it doesn’t mean that he must attend.”
Members of the law community said Choo’s plan to host a meeting of top prosecutors can be seen as an attempt for the administration to control the prosecution. “In the past, when a nationwide meeting of top prosecutors is hosted by the prosecutor general, a representative from the Justice Ministry just stopped by to say hello,” said a former head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. “It is wrong for the justice minister to order the top prosecutors to attend the meeting. The law governing the prosecution also bars intervention by the minister.”
Amid the continuing power struggle between the Justice Ministry and the prosecution, Yoon has started visiting regional prosecution offices Tuesday, the first tour since he took office in July last year. His first destination was Busan District Prosecutors’ Office, where one of his key aides, Han Dong-hoon, was sent from Seoul by Choo last month to serve as the deputy head of its high prosecutors’ office.
When Yoon arrived at the Busan office, about 400 people gathered to welcome him. Yoon did not answer reporters’ questions about Choo’s plan to divide the roles of prosecutors.
Yoon is scheduled to visit Gwangju next week and continue touring other regions including Daejeon and Daegu in the following weeks.
BY SER MYO-JA, LEE GA-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]