Neutrality is crucialFour candidates to succeed Yoon Seok-youl as new prosecutor general were shortlisted. They are former Vice Justice Minister Kim Oh-soo; Gwangju High Prosecutors’ Office chief Koo Bon-sun; Legal Research and Training Institute head Bae Sung-bum; and acting Prosecutor General Cho Nam-kwan. Lee Seong-yun, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, who was widely seen as the strongest candidate, did not make the cut.
Lee is under prosecutorial probe for allegedly abusing his power in 2018 to enforce an illegitimate travel ban on former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui. Putting Lee on the candidate list had been controversial as he had overtly interfered in investigations unfavorable for the sitting governing power. The government unabashedly oppressed former chief prosecutor Yoon and his followers, and favored prosecutors loyal to Moon and the government. But even with Lee off, the list contains names questioned for their ability to uphold prosecutorial independence and neutrality.
It has taken 55 days for the government to draw up candidates since Yoon handed in his resignation on April 5. Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office head Lee’s action raised serious questions about his qualification as head of the top law enforcement agency. He defied repeated calls for questioning as a suspect. He instead demanded the case be referred to the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO). After “red-carpet” treatment at CIO questioning, he even called for a meeting of a review committee to examine the appropriateness of his investigation. The move was aimed to buy time until the nomination review was held.
Yet Justice Minister Park Beom-kye went on defending Lee claiming the next prosecutor-general should be a person “in relevance to the president’s governance philosophy.” But the nomination committee struck Lee out.
Still, the list of choice remains concerning. The former Vice Justice Minister Kim had closely aided former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and her methodical campaign to tame the prosecution. His name came up as candidates for prosecutor general and chief of the Fair Trade Commission. The Blue House also recommended him to serve a member of the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) but was denied by the BAI chairman.
The president is in his final year of his five-year term. Who should be the next chief prosecutor responsible for various investigations and oversight of campaigning for the next presidential election? Neutrality and principle should be the key qualification.