Get to the bottom of the caseOn Monday, the prosecution requested an arrest warrant for Paik Un-kyu, former minister of trade, industry and energy under the Moon Jae-in administration, for further investigation of his alleged abuse of power. Paik is suspected of having abused his power by forcing out 13 CEOs of energy-related corporations under the ministry and of providing favors to certain candidates to fill the vacant posts in the early stage of the Moon administration. A court’s judgment on issuing an arrest warrant will come a few days later. But the prosecution’s resumption of the suspicious case three years after the accusation is meaningful as it reflects the top law enforcement authority’s determination to correct the delayed justice in the liberal administration.
The case began after the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) — the predecessor of the current People Power Party — accused the energy minister of abuse of power in early 2019, two years after the launch of the Moon administration. The LKP claimed that the energy minister summoned those CEOs to a hotel in September 2017 and pressured them to resign although their terms were not over at the time. Prosecutors investigated seven of them until June 2019, but their probe came to a halt after opposition from pro-government prosecutors at the top.
Insiders at the prosecution have testified that heads of the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office pressured an investigation team to dismiss the case involving Paik, but failed after the resistance from junior prosecutors. The prosecution’s request for an arrest warrant for Paik suggests that it obtained tangible evidence of abuse of power by the energy minister. The dramatic turnaround owes much to the new administration’s stern position on any criminal suspects. The Democratic Party’s (DP) rush to attack the prosecution for resuming its investigation does not make sense, as the DP apparently helped pressure the heads of public corporations to step down.
The prosecution has based its investigation on the Supreme Court’s ruling against former environment minister Kim Eun-kyung under the Moon administration. She was sentenced to two years in jail, and President Moon’s personnel affairs secretary to one year in jail, for their abuse of power. Enforcing resignation of high-ranking officials is not possible without an instruction from the presidential office.
Worse, such compelled resignations took place in ministries dealing with education, science and technology, and unification affairs. The prosecution looked into similar suspicions involving those ministries in 2019. Prosecutors must expose such practices committed by the previous administration to ensure they are not repeated in the future.