Lee Sung-yoon must resignLee Sung-yoon, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, could face indictment soon for allegedly blocking junior prosecutors from investigating a case involving the Justice Ministry issuing an illegitimate travel ban on former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui in 2019. The case against Lee is serious as he is suspected of pressuring investigators to stop probing the case when he served as a senior prosecutor in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.
The way Lee behaved after an investigation into the case is appalling. He repeatedly brushed off a prosecutor’s request to come in for questioning. He also demanded his case be transferred to the new Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) — to not be handled by the prosecution — when the special law enforcement body was not even fully staffed. That’s not all. He received red-carpet treatment from the CIO when he was summoned for questioning. Shortly before the prosecution prepared for his indictment, Lee called for an outside review of the legitimacy of his indictment in order to delay it until he could be nominated to head the top law enforcement agency.
Lee appeared before the review committee on Monday and insisted on his innocence. But outside legal experts overwhelmingly supported his indictment. As the committee’s meeting was held at his request, he can hardly refuse to accept its decision.
Lee must resign. The chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is the very symbol of justice. If he faces a trial, how could he manage investigations into other people’s wrongdoings?
If Lee refuses to step down, Justice Minister Park Beom-kye must remove him from active duty. The ministry has a long tradition of suspending officials indicted or censured for misbehavior. The Moon Jae-in administration went so far as to demote a senior prosecutor after he started digging up a case harmful to the administration.
The government may worry about ominous repercussions of his indictment as it could worry other prosecutors loyal to the government. In a special address on Monday to mark his fourth year in office, Moon praised the prosecution’s ability to keep its political neutrality in investigations. We hope the top law enforcement authority proves the validity of the president’s remarks.