Retract the suspensionIn a surprising turn of events, acting Prosecutor General Cho Nam-kwan pointed out the illegitimacy of Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s suspension of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from active duty. The acting prosecutor general demanded the justice minister withdraw her suspension decision over Yoon’s alleged violations of the Prosecution Act, including his alleged spying on judges before sensitive trials.
The acting prosecutor general said he and a majority of other prosecutors are convinced that their boss did not commit any criminal wrongdoings grave enough to justify his suspension. Cho warned that if a prosecutor general’s tenure guaranteed by the law is not kept, it will not only damage the top law enforcement agency’s political independence but also frustrate the administration’s crusade for prosecution reforms. “In that case, the government can make a grave mistake of transforming the prosecution into its slave,” he said.
As Cho currently serves as head of the top law enforcement agency, his statements reflect the opinion of the prosecution. In fact, all prosecutors across the country pointed to the illegality of the justice minister’s suspension of Yoon. Cho is not an aide to the prosecutor general, as he was recruited as head of the prosecution department in the ministry after Choo came into office in January. If Yoon is sacked, Cho or Lee Seong-yun, head of the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, will likely become the next prosecutor general. His defiance of the justice minister under such circumstances carries great significance.
That’s not all. Mid-level officials in the Justice Ministry have joined forces to oppose the justice minister’s reckless move to oust Yoon. A number of prosecutors working in the ministry even requested Choo to release the records of her inspections on Yoon to see if he really made serious violations of the Prosecution Act. They include nearly all prosecutors except a very few with close ties to the liberal administration. As it turned out, inspections on Yoon were conducted without following procedures stipulated by the law. As a result, the Justice Ministry — which must uphold the law more than any other agencies — has practically turned into a lawless world. It is Choo and her allies — not Yoon — that must be investigated by the prosecution.
The justice minister’s decision backfired already. Nearly 60 percent of the public find fault with Choo, not to mention growing concerns about the collapse of our justice system in legal circles and academia. Yet, President Moon Jae-in kept mum about it in a meeting Monday with his Blue House staff. Instead, he demanded civil servants “prioritize public interests over individual or group interests for the sake of common good.” If his remarks are aimed at prosecutors, that’s irresponsible.
Choo must retract her suspension order immediately. If she insists on the legitimacy of the decision, she will become a laughing stock. We hope she makes a wise decision before it’s too late.