Teetotal, upstanding public servant
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
He drank cola while I had beer over grilled meat that went cold due to his habit of responding to questions with a logical narrative. I had not meant to interview him over a meal in January, but the Q&A went on throughout the lunch with Han Dong-hoon, deputy head of the Judicial Research & Training Institute, who later was nominated for justice minister in the incoming Yoon Suk-yeol administration.
Since the campaign for the presidential election started heating up, questions have been many. Some speculated that Han could be promoted to prosecutor general or head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office if Yoon, a former prosecutor general, were elected president. Han brushed aside the possibility as placing him at the command for investigations would be “burdensome for the president-elect.” Han did not wish to be seated at a certain position in compensation for what he had suffered under the Moon Jae-in administration. He also did not think it was right for Yoon to use him “as the sword” to dig up dirt on the current administration.
Looking back on his words, Han had been half right and half wrong in his assumptions. First of all, he has not been named to the chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in command of major investigations. But he was wrong since he was nominated to head the Ministry of Justice, which handles prosecutorial administration. As Yoon pledged to strip the justice ministers of the authority to command the prosecutor general in investigations, Han would not be able to get involved in investigations when he becomes the minister.
My direct and indirect experience with Han suggests he is an upright fundamentalist. He does not drink. Whether he does not drink by nature cannot be known, but no one has seen him drinking with his peers in the top law enforcement agency or journalists. Han says alcohol does not suit him, but he may not want to give away anything under the influence of alcohol. He kindly responds to texts from the public or reporters, as well as to messages on the social media. Han thinks it is the duty of a public servant to answer queries of journalists and the public.
When I asked him why he has made so many enemies, he answered it is the prosecutor’s role to indict someone who has broken the law. It is what they are paid for. The textbook answer somehow came across as sincere. It was not like he was reciting the ethics code of public servants, but was speaking of his conviction. His principles sounded convincing. Asked why he refused to unlock the lock on his smartphone when he was raided by pro-government prosecutors to collect evidence of collusion with a TV reporter over a sensitive case, he argued that the law ensuring all of privacy and the right to not disclose personal records should be upheld. I jokingly asked if his phone records had any sensitive information, and he responded, “You’d be disappointed.” Han chuckled, saying he had been in prosecutorial work long enough not to leave any traces behind if he did anything fishy.
Yoon could feel indebted to Han for what he had gone through. His frequent demotions and the prosecution’s probe of Han were actually aiming at Yoon rather than Han. The Moon administration and ruling party had seen them as one.
Both men frequently spoke of respect for law, principle and common sense. The values should be applied to oneself and surroundings before anyone else. Moon had the characters for “Spring Breeze, Autumn Frost” — meaning treating others like the spring breeze and oneself as harsh as autumn frost — hung on the wall of the Blue House. But Yoon did not act by the wisdom. He is also suspected of being indulged with the spring breeze around him. He is accused of becoming lenient in judgment of others and keeping sycophants close by. He must have people who can talk straight at the president going the wrong way.
Han said he is a public servant who serves the people who pay him to do work. The president must be wise to use the fundamentalist in the right manner.