Uphold political neutralityPresident Moon Jae-in on Wednesday nominated Kim Jin-wook, a former judge and senior researcher at the Constitutional Court, to head the new Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO), followed by his nomination in the afternoon of Rep. Park Beom-kye, a former judge and three-term lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party (DP), as justice minister to replace Choo Mi-ae. With that decision, Moon has signaled a full-fledged effort to reform the prosecution until his term expires in May 2022. The two nominations were expected given his preference for judges.
The opposition People Power Party (PPP) denounced the president for picking a “tailor-made chief of the CIO” to serve as a “puppet and defense shield” against the prosecution’s investigations into his own administration. But the DP welcomed his decision and said it marked the “start of a systematic revamp of the prosecution.”
Kim must listen to criticisms from the PPP and dispel public concerns about his qualifications as the first head of the CIO. Rep. Choe Kang-wook, head of the Open Minjoo Party, singled out Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl as the first target of investigation by the CIO. One fear is that the new entity will try to wish away explosive cases such as the Blue House’s intervention in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election and the government’s removal of sensitive data about the early shutdown of the Wolseong-1 reactor.
Despite Kim’s portrayal of himself as a “centrist,” he is suspected of pro-government inclinations because of his earlier application for the position of director of the Human Rights Bureau in the Justice Ministry. He also lacks experience in investigations except for short service for a special prosecution in 1999. Even as a judge, attorney and senior researcher at the top court, he did not stand out. Some legal experts expect him to play a secondary role in the CIO while one of his deputies will serve as de facto head of the office. To dispel such concerns, Kim must uphold political independence above all.
Justice Minister nominee Park pledged to “complete prosecution reforms by paying heed to public concerns and stabilizing people’s livelihoods.” A classmate of Prosecutor General Yoon in the Judicial Research & Training Institute who passed the bar exam, Park trusted Yoon very much. But after Yoon started investigating allegations of corruption surrounding former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family, Park turned his back on Yoon. As a politician, Park knows too well the public’s disappointment with the chaos Justice Minister Choo created in her war on the top prosecutor. We hope he does not follow in her footsteps.