Stop the crusadeThe Blue House and Justice Ministry are pushing a plan to hold a disciplinary committee meeting to determine the fate of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. It is lamentable to see two such powerful entities dismiss a major demand from prosecutors for a reconsideration of the opening of the disciplinary meeting, a separate internal inspection committee’s strong recommendation not to convene the meeting and even the Seoul Administrative Court’s recent ruling to put on hold Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s suspension of the top prosecutor from active duty.
On Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in hurriedly nominated lawyer Lee Yong-ku as vice justice minister to replace Koh Ki-young, who resigned Tuesday in protest of his boss’s decision to hold the disciplinary meeting to oust the top prosecutor. Though Lee served as a senior official in the ministry until April, we wonder if his selection followed required procedures.
If former Vice Justice Minister Koh had not stepped down, he would have acted as chairman of the disciplinary committee instead of the justice minister, who is not eligible to serve as chairman. In fact, a vast majority of prosecutors across the country opposed the justice minister’s push to censure the top prosecutor. As a result, the government hastily recruited a pro-government lawyer to serve as chairman of the committee.
On Wednesday, rumors spread that two deputy heads of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office resigned after being designated preliminary members of the committee just in case. What we have never experienced before is taking place in the top law enforcement agency — not just once but seemingly every day. The presidential office and government seem to be pinning their hopes on a disciplinary meeting driving Yoon away after he started investigating government corruption and abuse of power.
It was revealed that the Justice Ministry conducted an illegitimate inspection of the top prosecutor. For instance, mid-level prosecutors involved in inspecting their boss concluded that Yoon’s so-called spying on judges ahead of sensitive trials did not constitute a criminal act, but their conclusion was pushed aside by the justice minister.
The administrative court said that a justice minister’s command and oversight of a prosecutor general should be kept to the minimum to uphold the political independence of the prosecution. The court underscored the need for a disciplinary committee to have sufficient deliberations to protect a defendant’s rights to prevent an arbitrary decision by the ministry.
If the government presses ahead with this censure of Yoon, that will spark a collect move by prosecutors to resign. Is this what the justice minister really wants? In that case, she will face national resistance. We urge her to stop her out-of-control crusade.