Prosecutors in controversial probe promoted
Prosecutors in charge of a controversial investigation into suspected collusion between a reporter and a senior prosecutor to blackmail a witness were promoted, and those who opposed the probe were demoted to provincial offices.
The Ministry of Justice on Thursday reshuffled 630 mid-level prosecutors. The new assignments will start Sept. 3.
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae named new four deputy heads of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, the largest prosecutors’ office in the nation. Kim Wuk-jun, a close ally of the current head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, Lee Sung-yoon, was named first deputy head of the office. Other allies of Choo and Lee were named to three other deputy head positions.
Kim will supervise the investigation into an alleged conspiracy between a reporter and a high-level prosecutor to smear a media personality close to the administration. Lee Dong-jae, a former Channel A reporter, was indicted earlier this month for attempted extortion. He was accused of blackmailing a businessman named Lee Cheol to obtain incriminating information on Rhyu Si-min, a liberal pundit with close ties to the Moon Jae-in administration.
A team at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has also been investigating allegations of conspiracy between Lee Dong-jae and Han Dong-hoon, a senior prosecutor and ally of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. The Aug. 5 indictment against Lee, however, did not include allegations of conspiracy with Han, suggesting that the prosecutors were unable to prove any suspected collusion.
Jeong Jin-ung, head of the criminal department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office who led the investigation, was promoted in Thursday’s reshuffle. Choo promoted him to deputy head of the Gwangju District Prosecutors’ Office.
The promotion was extraordinary. When a department head is promoted, he or she is normally named head of a branch office before becoming a deputy head of a district office. Jeong, however, skipped that step and was directly named deputy head of the Gwangju District Office.
The promotion was announced only hours after the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office said earlier in the morning that Jeong is a criminal suspect in one of its investigations.
The Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office said it is investigating Jeong for an allegation that he abused his power and assaulted Han during a raid on July 29. Han filed a criminal complaint later that day accusing Jeong of assaulting him while exercising a search and seizure warrant against him.
The Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office started an internal audit, but sources said Jeong refused to cooperate. After failing to question him for a month, the prosecution said it will investigate him as a suspect.
In the middle of the audit, Kim Young-dae, head of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office, stepped down.
Members of the Audit Department of the Seoul High Prosecution faced demotions on Thursday. Jeong Jin-gi, the head of the audit, was demoted to serve as a prosecutor in the Daegu High Prosecutors’ Office. Including Jeong, five out of the six members of the team were sent to provincial offices.
In contrast, prosecutors who investigated the suspected collusion between the reporter and Han were assigned to key posts. Jeon Jun-cheol was named head of the Anti-Corruption Department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. Sources in the prosecution said Jeon had played a primary role in writing the indictment of former Channel A reporter Lee.
Jeon was an associate of Lee Sung-yoon, the head of the Seoul Central office.
Jeong Gwang-su was also promoted to head of the Yeonggdong Branch of the Jeonju District Prosecutors’ Office. Kim Hyeong-won was assigned to a prestigious position at the Legal Ethics and Professional Conduct Council.
Other senior prosecutors who investigated the case were already promoted to powerful posts in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office when Choo reshuffled senior prosecutors on Aug. 7.
Prosecutors critical of the case were demoted and sent to lesser important posts in provincial offices.
Park Yeong-jin of the First Criminal Department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office was sent to the Ulsan District Prosecutors' Office, after only six months in his job. Sources in the prosecution said Prosecutor General Yoon had asked the ministry to keep Park in his post, but the request was rejected.
Gong Bok-suk of the Second Criminal Department was sent to the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office.
Among members of the Criminal Department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, Kim Gwan-jeong, the department head, was the only supporter of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office’s probe into the reporter and Han. He was promoted to head the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office on Aug. 8.
BY SER MYO-JA, JUNG YOO-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]