Clear up the suspicionJustice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s son has been under suspicion that he did not return to his military base after a period of his leave was over in 2017, when he was doing his military service in the Korean Augmentation To the United States Army (Katusa) for the 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. 8th Army.
Under such circumstances, an audio clip showing a sensitive phone conservation between an officer and Choo’s aide has been exposed by Rep. Shin Won-sik, a lawmaker from the main opposition People Power Party (PPP). In the audio clip, when the officer asked the caller — Choo’s aide — if he wanted to extend his boss’s son’s leave, the aide says, “Yes.”
At the time, “I wondered why an aide to a lawmaker had to do such chores,” the officer recalled. The head of the 2nd Infantry Division also testified that the officer did not approve of an extension for Choo’s son’s leave. Such remarks sharply contrast with what the justice minister said in the National Assembly the previous day: “My aide has never made such a phone call,” she flatly denied.
The suspicion raised in her confirmation hearing last year can be cleared very easily. The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office currently handling the case can contact related officers and find the truth behind Choo’s son’s suspicious extension of leave. Opposition lawmaker Shin, a former Army lieutenant general, already met with the officers involved in the case and gathered detailed information.
When another PPP lawmaker asked Choo about the suspicion, she sarcastically said, “Are you writing a novel?” She went so far as to demand a “thorough probe into the case by the prosecution.” In an earlier reshuffle of the prosecution under the justice minister, however, a top prosecutor dealing with the case resigned after he failed to get promoted. Another senior prosecutor was also sent to a leisurely post in another district prosecutors’ office. Such suspicious transfers could be signs of an obstruction of justice.
The prosecution must dig up the case and announce the results. The justice minister also must stop hindering the prosecution’s investigation or making remarks that can be interpreted as pressure. The audio clip showed that Choo’s son took sick leave in June 2017 without permission from his commander. And yet the defense minister said, “It was just an administrative mistake.” The Defense Ministry must clear up the suspicions and punish the officers involved if necessary.