Strange reshufflingA government campaign to tame the prosecution is accelerating in the final year of Moon Jae-in’s presidential term. The drive initiated by former Justice Ministers Cho Kuk and Choo Mi-ae was handed down to Park Beom-kye and Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo who have pushed it to new limits. Mass-scale appointments of new mid-level prosecutors ring alarms because they are suspected of aiming to dismantle or derail the ongoing investigations on corruptions of the sitting power.
If current Justice Minister Park’s reshuffle outline passes cabinet approval on June 29, the prosecution would see another irregular shakeup after the promotion of Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office head Lee Sung-yoon to chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office despite Lee being a suspect to a criminal investigation. Park said more than 90 percent in high prosecutors’ offices will be reshuffled in the largest-ever scale. The Justice Ministry held an appointment review committee meeting on Wednesday.
If the appointments are made in a normal way, they should not be an issue. But the reshuffle is being made though it’s not a regular reshuffle season — and being pushed without a strong cause. Prosecutorial posts are usually shifted in March — and in a smaller scale in September — to help stabilize the top law enforcement agency. But under the Moon Jae-in administration, a massive reshuffle took place nearly once every six months. During the period, more than 100 high-rank prosecutors left.
Usually, a mass-scale reorganization follows when a new chief comes to office. But even as new Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo is not that young, he is seeking to change more than 90 percent in the mid-rank, which raises suspicion about the motive.
The judiciary community suspects the reshuffle could be aimed at upsetting investigations against the sitting power. Possible subjects to the change are Lee Sang-hyun, criminal division head at Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office investigating the Blue House’s alleged intervention in manipulating data on the Wolseong 1 reactor for shutdown, Byun Pil-gon, criminal division head at Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in charge of investigation on the Blue House meddling in the case of former Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui and Lee Jung-seop, criminal division head at Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office also probing the case on Kim.
The Ministry of Justice had come under strong protest from the prosecution for its move to weaken the prosecution’s power to directly investigate six major crimes on corruption, senior government officials, economy, elections, defense-related and major disasters. The scheme was canceled after Kim, a loyalist to Moon, also protested.
The Justice Ministry must explain the rationale for its sweeping reshuffle. The principle of fair and strict investigation and prosecution must not be undermined no matter who is in power.