Bad day for the lawThe ruling Democratic Party (DP) passed a controversial revision to the Act on the Establishment of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) in the National Assembly on Thursday. The Justice Ministry also held a disciplinary committee meeting to determine the fate of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. On Monday, President Moon Jae-in said the passage of the CIO Act will mark a complete systematic reform of the top law enforcement agency. Given the DP’s railroading of the revision and the staging of the disciplinary meeting despite many procedural flaws, Dec. 10 will be remembered as a day when the rule of law failed in Korea.
After calling for a special session of the Assembly just a day after its regular session was over, the DP submitted the revision to the CIO Act and other sensitive bills to a plenary session of the legislature and passed them based on its supermajority. To dispel concerns about the possibility of the CIO turning into a defense shield for the Moon administration, the DP had agreed long ago to give the opposition People Power Party (PPP) the right to veto any pro-government candidates for the head of the CIO. The DP broke that promise.
If the DP and government really aim to reform the prosecution, they should have convinced the PPP of the need to set up the new law enforcement agency. Instead, the DP slyly inserted a clause to the act to ease qualifications of prosecutors to be dispatched to the CIO so that they can serve the DP.
The Justice Ministry’s disciplinary committee meeting was just as bad. Despite public outrage at Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s overbearing attempt to oust the top prosecutor after he started investigations of the powers that be — and in the face of nearly all prosecutors’ opposition to the disciplinary meeting — the ministry pressed ahead. A presidential order to ensure procedural fairness before the meeting was ignored.
The composition of the seven-member disciplinary committee itself was inappropriate. One of the three members from outside quit for unspecified reasons and another member did not attend. Yoon accused the remaining five of being biased against him. The Justice Ministry did not even inform Yoon of who would be on the committee. Yoon requested the names of the committee members, but the ministry blew him off.
The ministry’s grounds for punishing the top prosecutor were not accepted by its internal inspection committee. Nevertheless, a majority of lawyers expect the disciplinary committee to hand down a stiff verdict on Yoon. The verdict will eventually go to the Supreme Court. Can Choo really afford the long court battle ahead?