A lawless justice minister

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A lawless justice minister

Since taking office on Jan. 3, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has been engrossed with blocking Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from investigating abuses of power by the Blue House.

Choo, a former judge, tried to obstruct the prosecution’s investigations by replacing senior prosecutors digging into such cases with new faces loyal to the government and refused to submit the full text of an indictment of 13 Blue House officials and other figures allegedly having intervened in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election to help President Moon Jae-in’s longtime friend win the race to the National Assembly and even prepares to embark on an unprecedented experiment: dividing prosecutors into two groups — those who investigate criminal cases and those who handle indictments for criminal suspects — to help administration officials to avoid responsibility for wrongdoings in the future.

Despite the need for immigration control in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, we don’t hear any news about the Ministry of Justice tightening security at points of entry. Choo is acting like the head of a special squad to safeguard the Moon administration.

The list of her suspicious acts is long. First of all, she did not allow her ministry to submit an indictment for 13 officials in the Blue House and elsewhere to the legislature. The National Assembly Act stipulates that an administration must comply with a request from the legislature to submit government documents on the nation’s military and foreign affairs and inter-Korean relations as long as they are not top secret.

The Blue House’s alleged intervention in the local election is not related to national security at all. Even though the shocking case is being investigated by the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office after the opposition Liberty Korea Party and a civic group raised a complaint with the prosecution, she does not feel any shame.

Choo, a five-term lawmaker, went so far as to support Lee Sung-yoon, current head of Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, when he tried to block the indictment of the 13 suspects involved in the election. She sided with Lee because the mighty prosecution office made “the mistake of indicting them based on a direct order from Prosecutor General Yoon.” The prosecution act says a prosecutor general has the right to oversee prosecution offices and command public servants in the law enforcement agency. In other words, a prosecutor general holds a final responsibility to investigate — and indict — criminal suspects. Choo acts like an “injustice minister,” not justice minister.

After Prosecutor General Yoon pressed ahead with an indictment for the 13 officials, Choo has come up with the novel idea of splitting prosecutors into the two groups. If that happens, the government can neutralize prosecutorial investigations by appointing pro-government prosecutors as indicters. That can be used as a protection for any cases involving abuse of power or corruption of the government. Yoon flatly opposed Choo’s idea, saying that “investigation only serves the purpose of indictment.”

Separating prosecutors into two groups does not make any sense. Choo cited Japan’s case to back her proposal, but it turned out to be a lie. And yet, she is determined to invite all heads of prosecution offices across the country to the Justice Ministry on Friday to “discuss the issue.” As the saying goes, power is finite, and a power’s wrongdoings are corrected at the end of the day.
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