Replacements for what?Lee Seong-yun kept his seat as head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office even after Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl asked new Justice Minister Park Beom-kye to replace him. Shim Jae-cheol, head of the Justice Ministry’s Department of Prosecution Affairs who had helped former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae to oust top Prosecutor Yoon without following the law and procedure was named the chief of the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office, one of the top five choices in senior jobs for prosecutors.
The Southern District Office is responsible for the Lime Asset Management scandal in which multiple government and political figures are implicated. Lee Jeong-soo, who was in the seat, traded his place with Shim. Lee went to the same high school as Minister Park.
Prosecutor General Yoon has been arguing that Lee, the head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, has lost authority and command over prosecutors there. Lee drew protest from junior prosecutors when he ignored an investigation team’s request that he take a step to indict former presidential secretary Choi Kang-wook for abuse of power and lies.
Prosecutors also gathered to collectively protest when Lee refused to endorse a non-guilty finding on senior prosecutor Han Dong-hoon, an ally of Prosecutor General Yoon. Lee maintained that the decision on Han should be withheld until the smartphone lock could be forcibly unlocked. Under his reasoning, prosecutors must withhold all cases until the expiration of the statute of limitations if evidence cannot be found.
Working prosecutors cannot be expected to follow such unreliable leadership. Lee also could be questioned for his alleged implication in the case of illegally enforcing a travel ban on former vice justice minister Kim Hak-eui by forging documents while he headed the anticorruption bureau at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.
The first appointments under the new justice minister have kept all the people loyal to President Moon Jae-in in key posts at the prosecution. The head of the Seoul Southern District Office mostly covering economic crimes also has been filled with Moon loyalists. The appointment style of former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has been repeated.
Disregard of the opinions of the chief prosecutor also stayed unchanged. Minister Park met Yoon twice, but his opinions about personnel affairs were ignored. The minister could also be regarding the chief prosecutor as his subordinate.
Hopes for normalization in the prosecutorial institution were wrecked under overbearing Choo and have been dashed under a new minister, too. The change of the senior presidential secretary of civil affairs to a more reasonable Shin Hyun-soo also made little impact. At this rate, prosecution reforms could end up in vain.