Suspicious reshuffleAfter Justice Minister Park Beom-kye’s massive reshuffle last week of senior prosecutors delving into alleged abuse of power and corruption of government officials, the opposition People Power Party (PPP) has denounced it for aiming to defend the Moon Jae-in administration. In the largest-ever reshuffle, Park changed more than 90 percent of mid-level prosecutors dealing with explosive cases. For instance, senior prosecutors probing into the Blue House’s alleged intervention in inflating former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui’s sex-for-influence scandal and issuing an illegitimate travel ban on him, as well as the presidential office’s alleged pressure on the Energy Ministry to manipulate data on the Wolsong-1 reactor to help spur the government’s nuclear phase-out policy have all been replaced. Some of the prosecutors were demoted.
The justice minister claims the appointments were fair and balanced, but that’s not convincing. Park even promoted a prosecutor who became a suspect after his indictment for helping issue an illegal travel ban on the former vice justice minister under the previous conservative administration. Park placed many pro-government prosecutors on major posts of the law enforcement agency. His opponents linked it to the need for the government to block the prosecution from investigating President Moon and his Blue House with less than a year left before his term expires.
Could prosecutors continue their probe under such circumstances? Last week, a senior prosecutor from the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office once again requested the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office allow him to indict Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Lee Kwang-cheol for orchestrating the travel ban on the former justice minister. But the prosecutor was ordered to move to other district office the following day.
Nevertheless, new prosecutors must get to the bottom of those cases. Pro-government prosecutors were often promoted in the past. But they must not let neutrality of the prosecution be shaken. Park downplayed his reshuffle, saying new prosecutors can continue probing the cases if they want. But he must ensure the independence of the prosecution to prove the authenticity of his remarks.
After the shocking reshuffle by the minister, the PPP has mentioned the need to reinvestigate such cases after the March 9, 2022 presidential election. Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong, a presidential hopeful from the PPP, wrote on Facebook, “Crimes can be covered up, but not forever.” If a political party takes power, it dug up dirt on the previous government. That’s our history. To end the vicious cycle, the Justice Ministry must not obstruct the prosecution’s investigation and a judicial process.