Refrain from the commandJustice Minister Park Beom-gye is cornered after invoking his rights to command the prosecution’s re-investigation into a bribery case involving former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook to see if prosecutors forced inmates of the businessman who gave her political slush funds to give false testimony about him in the trial. After an investigation cleared those prosecutors of forced perjury charges, the justice minister ordered an expanded group of senior prosecutors to review the decision, but its conclusion did not change. Despite the participation of pro-government prosecutors in the expanded meeting in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office last week, only two out of the 14 top prosecutors mentioned the need to indict the inmate.
In his earlier interview with the press, Justice Minister Park showed confidence in indicting the inmate for perjury. But Park should be blamed for his wrong judgment to revisit the case. On Saturday, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office notified the Justice Ministry of its conclusion. The conventional wisdom says Park must accept the decision by the top prosecutors. But given all the unexpected turns of events, no one knows what action the justice minister will take next time.
Politicians are joining the battle first. Rep. Kim Yong-min, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), lambasted the prosecution for “distorting the truth and embracing its members,” vowing to end such “shameful practices” of the top law enforcement agency. In reaction, a spokesperson of the opposition People Power Party (PPP) demanded the justice minister immediately resign after taking responsibility for “causing confusion to the people and country with his wrong judgment.”
Park’s steps only deepened the schisms between the justice ministry and the prosecution. The DP has blamed former Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl for all the conflict between the ministry and the prosecution. But the minister’s actions show he still does not have any intention to respect the independence of the prosecution even after Yoon resigned.
The Prosecution Act stipulates that a justice minister only commands and oversees a prosecutor-general when it comes to individual cases. That’s why previous justice ministers refrained from commanding prosecutor-generals in their investigations. Sixty-five out of 68 past justice ministers have never exercised their rights to command a prosecutor-general.
But justice ministers under President Moon Jae-in have already exercised their commanding rights as many as four times. In Park’s case, his political motives are questioned because former Prime Minister Han came from the same party.
There are many official routes for the Justice Ministry or Han to raise an objection to the prosecution’s decisions, including a court appeal or sending the case to the Constitutional Court. If Park continues wielding his influence on an individual case after dismissing such legal procedures, that’s the same as an attempt to control the prosecution, not prosecutorial reform.