Choo must explainIt has been found that Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, a former judge, and her husband, an active lawyer, pressured the Ministry of National Defense to help extend their son’s sick leave during his military service in 2017, when Choo was head of the ruling Democratic Party (DP). A related document released from the Defense Ministry says, “Parents of Private First Class Seo requested the extension of his vacation after talking with their son.” In the document, an officer even told Seo to “make such a request directly to your commander” instead of going through his parents.
If such a finding is true, Choo — the guardian of justice — must explain. First of all, she must answer to the question of why she denied any favoritism for her son when she appeared in a National Assembly session. In most cases, soldiers request an extension of their vacation after presenting medical records to their units. In Choo’s son’s case, however, his commander extended his vacation even without medical records. Choo’s son said he sent the records through an email later because his doctor was outside the hospital. But the email records could not be found in the military archives.
The justice minister also must make clear if one of Choo’s aides really made a phone call to the military base on her behalf. Even though an officer said he certainly took a call from her office, she flatly denied it. That’s not all. Several military officers testified that they received requests from Choo’s office to assign her son to a relatively comfortable base and later to offer her son an opportunity to serve as an interpreter during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Such requests can constitute a violation of the anti-solicitation and anti-graft law.
Choo has brushed off all suspicions as a part of a conspiracy. She is on a crusade to carry out “unfettered prosecutorial reforms” but that has become a laughing stock after she demoted prosecutors who investigated high-level government officials and heavyweights in the DP while promoting prosecutors she favored.
The way Choo behaves damages the longstanding honor of the military. A plethora of suspicions over her son can surely serve as a bad precedent for other soldiers. Soldiers are being demoralized and ordinary citizens’ disappointment is ever deepening.
Choo must convince the people why she took an extraordinary path ordinary people cannot think of. Otherwise, she must step down. A recent Realmeter poll shows President Moon Jae-in’s disapproval rating hovering at 49.5 percent. Public sentiment can change, but you can’t restore the dignity of the military and the prosecution once it has collapsed.