Serious internal bleedingAt Tuesday’s National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee meeting, hot-tempered Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae apologized for the clash between the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office and the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office over a case involving alleged collusion between the press and the prosecution. Internal division of the top law enforcement agency has reached a point where a justice minister apologized for internal schisms in a meeting held even without opposition lawmakers.
It all started after an investigation team in the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office decided to request a court-issued arrest warrant for a reporter from Channel A, a conservative media outlet, on charges of attempting to coerce the prosecution to disclose information on alleged corruption of government officials and ruling party members. The reporter, surnamed Lee, is suspected of having pressured prosecutors after bragging about his close relations with senior prosecutor Han Dong-hoon, a close aide to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, who is on a crusade to investigate corruption among government officials and lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (DP).
Traditionally, when it comes to major cases, prosecutors launch investigations under the command of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. Following an earlier review of the collusion case, a consultative group of senior prosecutors in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office also questioned the validity of charges against Lee, the reporter. If the junior prosecutors were not able to convince their senior members of the need to indict Lee, they can hardly do so with judges. If their investigation was lacking, they should have investigated the case further.
But the junior prosecutors ignored the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office’ order to submit detailed accounts of Lee’s crime. As a result, the top prosecutors’ office decided to refer the case to a group of special advisors and asked junior prosecutors to recommend advisors they want. After they did not comply with the request, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office appointed members of the advisory group on its own.
Then, the junior prosecutors asked the top prosecutors’ office to stop using the group of advisors and instead demanded independence on par with a special prosecutor. An investigation team has never requested such privileges on its own. The request is brazen defiance of the top prosecutors’ office.
The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office — and Prosecutor General Yoon — also cannot avoid responsibility for the unheard-of internal division. If the top prosecutors’ office decides to not indict Lee based on its own judgment, it cannot avoid criticism for trying to embrace one of its allies.
Despite many cases involving alleged corruption of government officials and ruling party members, the prosecution led by Yoon stops short of showing decisive evidence. For instance, the prosecution has been investigating the alleged accounting fraud of a powerful advocacy group for former sex slaves — which was led by a DP lawmaker — over 18 months without presenting any tangible evidence. The public is embarrassed at what the prosecution is doing.