Justice prevailsKim Eun-kyung, former environment minister under President Moon Jae-in, was arrested at court after she was sentenced to 30 months in jail for abusing her power to force out executives at public corporations under the ministry and replacing them with loyalists to Moon and the ruling front. She makes the first senior official from the Moon administration to be jailed. Shin Mi-sook, former presidential secretary for balanced personnel affairs, was also found guilty on similar charges.
The essence of the trial involves abuse of power by the minister and presidential secretary to meddle in appointments in public entities and impose rewarding titles on loyalists of the new president. The duo was behind the ousting of 13 executives of public corporations under the jurisdiction of the Environment Ministry and replacing them with people recommended by the Blue House.
The bench found that Minister Kim had orchestrated illegal recruitments by disqualifying all the shortlisted candidates and demoting some ministry officials for disobeying her order. Victims of her excess included 13 who had to resign against their will, 80 on the appointment review committee who were merely used for formality and 130 others.
The suspected purge was first raised by a special Blue House inspection team in late 2018 that discovered activities of surveillance on civilians. Then presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom strongly denied the accusation. But he was found to be lying. The files from the environment ministry showed it regularly watched 21 executives at eight public organizations. The Seoul East District Prosecutors’ Office which handled the case argued that senior posts at public enterprises were regarded as trophies or personal assets of the governing front. But the arrest warrant had been denied by a judge citing “customary practice.”
The Environment Ministry case is different from the blacklisting of cultural and entertainment figures under the former Park Geun-hye administration. It is more serious since it has blacklisted government employees. Despite difficulties in the investigation process, the court has maintained balance and objectivity in the first ruling. All the requests for arrest warrant for ministers under Moon — including Kim, former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and Energy Minister Paik Un-kyu — were denied by a court. But the latest ruling shows justice prevails even if it takes time. Other investigations on Wolseong-1 unit shutdown and meddling in the Ulsan mayoral elections involving the figures in the sitting power must be proceeded without wavering.