Political neutrality holds the key

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Political neutrality holds the key

On Thursday, Deputy Prosecutor General Lee Won-seok was nominated to head the prosecution after more than 100 days of vacancy in the chief prosecutor post. Given confirmation hearings needed to approve his nomination, it may take more than 124 days — the longest vacancy so far — until he assumes the job as top prosecutor. But we cannot but wonder why it took so many days for President Yoon Suk-yeol to nominate him.

While the post of the chief prosecutor was empty, some of the investigations targeting officials in the previous administration already started. Reshuffling the prosecution was also led by Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon instead to fill major posts with pro-Yoon prosecutors. Since key aides to the prosecutor general were already appointed, concerns are growing over the possibility of a chief prosecutor being swayed by the justice minister, a confidante of President Yoon.

Lee was nominated as chief prosecutor ahead of his three senior prosecutors recommended by a committee. The nominee with expertise in special investigations just like Yoon and Han had served as head of the department of planning and coordination in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office under then prosecutor general Yoon. As a senior prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in 2017, Lee also helped Yoon — a member of the special prosecutor’s office at the time — probe into the power abuse scandal involving president Park Geun-hye. Lee also graduated from the Judicial Research and Training Institute in the same year as Han did after passing the nationally-administered examination. His nomination owes much to his smooth operation of the top law enforcement agency after the resignation of Kim Oh-soo as the chief.

As Lee’s appointment as prosecutor general does not require consent from the National Assembly, he can assume the post as early as next month. As chief prosecutor, Lee must command investigations into various suspicions over former president Moon Jae-in and Rep. Lee Jae-myung, former presidential candidate for the Democratic Party (DP). He must get to the bottom of suspicions over the Moon administration’s forcible repatriation of two North Korean defectors; manipulation of the case of a South Korean fisheries official crossing the maritime border in the Yellow Sea as a case of defection; fabrication of an economic feasibility study on an aged nuclear reactor; the Daejang-dong development scandal of Lee Jae-myung and his alleged pressuring of a company to cover his legal fees on his behalf. The DP denounced such investigations as oppression of the opposition.

Given such backgrounds, Lee must uphold the independence of investigations by the prosecution. We hope he maintains political neutrality and demonstrate a sense of balance no matter what.
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