A stark contradiction

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A stark contradiction

Choi Sang-yeon
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


In by-elections held shortly before the 2007 presidential election, the Grand National Party faced a crushing defeat. It was no surprise — friction between lawmakers loyal to presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak and those loyal to his rival Park Geun-hye ran deep in the main opposition party. When reporters asked Park why she had refused to cooperate with Lee shortly after the exit polls were out, she coldly replied, “What good would it have done to the elections if I campaigned alongside someone who says he would do whatever it takes to block the construction of Sejong City?” After Lee became president, documents insisting Park should not be his successor circulated in the Blue House widely.

But the more the Lee administration tried to oppress Park, the more she gained popularity because people sympathized with her. Lee played the biggest role behind Park’s ticket to the Blue House. The aides of former presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang aimed for a similar outcome when he was summoned by prosecutors in a corruption case following his defeat in the 2002 presidential election. Lee Hoi-chang’s advisers suggested he should be jailed so that he could succeed then-President Roh Moo-hyun. (Lee Hoi-chang did not go to jail — and he did not become the next president.)

I did not expect the Moon Jae-in administration to attack Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. Instead of stirring up commotion, I thought the Moon administration would slowly cave in to Yoon. What’s the point of making a ruckus when Yoon barely has any power in the prosecution, anyway? At a time when the main opposition United Future Party is in turmoil, why would Moon’s administration want to create problems with the chief prosecutor, as they would only backfire to empower Yoon’s status as a potential presidential candidate for the opposition?

It turned out I was wrong. Given the preposterous ways the Moon administration is tackling Yoon, I’m starting to think he could seriously rise to become the main opposition party’s dark horse in the next race.

The brouhaha between Yoon and Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae all began from Choo’s claim that Yoon disobeyed her order to scrap his plan to set up an advisory panel to examine the validity of a probe involving one of his closest aides. What’s ironic, however, is the fact that the same justice minister told Yoon half a year ago during a probe looking into her predecessor, Cho Kuk, to take full advantage of external committees, such as the advisory panel.

An advisory panel was also activated during a real estate speculation probe surrounding former Democratic Party (DP) Rep. Sohn Hye-won. At the time, the panel recommended she should not be indicted. That’s not all. During his nomination hearing year ago, DP lawmakers told Yoon that he should refuse any unjust order from the justice minister. Today, however, Yoon is deprived of any such prerogatives as prosecutor general. As the Blue House keeps passing down orders to Yoon through justice minister, many investigations have lost public credibility. DP lawmakers keep urging Yoon to step down, but it was the liberal party that led a legislative movement to ensure a two-year term for the chief prosecutor in 1988 — when the DP was the main opposition party — while rallying for prosecutorial neutrality.

If the Moon administration continues with its hypocrisy, no one will buy its explanation for the need of prosecutorial reforms or a special law enforcement agency to investigate corruption among high-level government officials. There’s not a single lawmaker from the DP who denies that the main goal of prosecutorial reform is to wean prosecutors off of their strong authority. Actually, it was Justice Minister Choo who said prosecutorial reforms should not have a political motive, and it was President Moon who asked Yoon to “sternly” react to any corruption allegations concerning the Blue House, government or the DP. Their messages turned out to be empty words.

Choo recently urged prosecutors once again to investigate with fairness. There’s only one way to eradicate all doubts about her intentions — it is to use her authority to order prosecutors to thoroughly investigate deepening speculation surrounding DP Rep. Yoon Mee-hyang. Also, she should urge the prosecution to dig up all suspicions of the Blue House’s intervention in the Ulsan mayoral election in 2018 and other cases involving abuse of power and also appoint a special prosecutor to dig into allegations against her son.

On every rising suspicion related to someone connected to the administration, officials have a vicious habit of saying, “Let’s wait for the results of the investigation.” When the suspects are indicted, they say, “Let’s wait until the court reaches a ruling.” The Moon administration will gain public trust when it applies the same standards to cases involving opposition lawmakers. Choo’s bullying of Yoon just because he’s not on the same side constitutes a dereliction of duty. If she really wants to display her real attitude, she should rather confess that her order to prosecutors to investigate fairly was just a slip of the tongue, and then fire Yoon. That would be fair and square for both.

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Shrinking middle ground

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