How to misuse a budgetA bipartisan parliamentary inspection on the allegation that Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl misappropriated some of the special activities budget allocated to the prosecution only backfired after it was discovered it had been the Justice Ministry that had been spending the budget without clear purposes.
During a legislative questioning session on Nov. 5, ruling Democratic Party (DP) lawmakers claimed there were rumors that the chief prosecutor doled out more money to the prosecutors and divisions he was happy with and less to those he was not.
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae jumped in and claimed that investigators at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office were hard up because they do not get enough allowances for activities from the chief prosecutor. “The prosecutor general uses the budget as if it is his own pocket money,” she fumed. On Nov. 6, she ordered a special inspection and report on Yoon’s spending and budgetary execution.
The prosecution has been accused of using the budget for other purposes many times. If the allegations are found to be true, it calls for a general examination and reform on the prosecution’s budgetary outlay.
However, inspection findings did not comply with the accusations. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, which mostly follows orders from the justice minister, took about 16 percent of the budget in special allowances, similar to 2018 levels. Although the total amount has been reduced, that’s because the overall budget for special allowances had been cut. The Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office, which is investigating a state-organized scheme to deflate the economic feasibility of the Wolseong-1 reactor to back the government’s nuclear phase-out policy, received about 3 percent of the budget — no different from its usual levels.
The accusation about favoritism and discrimination on distributing budget does not stand. The accusation came up shortly after the Daejeon District Office launched a raid of government agencies over the Wolseong reactor case. Even if lawmakers made such claims, Justice Minister Choo should have checked and answered in discretion. But she was eager to accept the accusation as if she would do anything to push Prosecutor General Yoon out of office.
The prosecution receives special allowances so that prosecutors can undertake discreet investigations. But why the Justice Ministry needs to spend over 1 billion won ($894,941) for special activities must be explained. The DP came to Choo’s defense, claiming she has used none for personal interests. But the main opposition argues there is no proof that she did not. If the expense was spent by the Justice Ministry, the money must not go to the ministry.