Yoon says he’ll conduct corruption probe into Moon administration if elected

Posted on : 2022-02-10 17:10 KST Modified on : 2022-02-10 17:10 KST
The Blue House said Wednesday that Yoon’s remarks were “very inappropriate and offensive”
Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential nominee for the People Power Party, met with Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick, at the office of the Archdiocese of Seoul on Wednesday. (pool photo)
Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential nominee for the People Power Party, met with Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick, at the office of the Archdiocese of Seoul on Wednesday. (pool photo)

Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential candidate for the People Power Party, has stirred controversy by saying he’ll launch an investigation into corruption by the Moon Jae-in administration if elected president next month. Critics say it’s inappropriate for a former prosecutor general who had stressed national unity to vow to punish presumed corruption by the current administration before even taking office.

In answer to a question in an interview published Wednesday by South Korean daily the Joongang Ilbo, Yoon said he would investigate corruption by the former administration just as Moon Jae-in did early on in his presidency.

“If the investigations carried out by the current administration were in line with constitutional principles, why would it be retaliation for the next administration to investigate this administration’s corruption and illegality? It would be just following the system,” Yoon asked.

Yoon said there should be another investigation of the Daejang neighborhood development scandal, too. “At the time, he was the mayor [of Seongnam] with all decision-making powers over the project,” Yoon said, referring to his rival in the presidential election, then-Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung.

Yoon also suggested that, if elected, he means to reserve a key role for Han Dong-hoon, a senior prosecutor who worked closely with Yoon on investigations of corruption. Han currently serves as deputy director of the Judicial Research and Training Institute.

Yoon said as much while responding to the Democratic Party’s claim that Yoon would appoint close allies in the prosecution service to lead the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office as part of his efforts to build a “Republic of Prosecutors.”

“Look what this administration has done to senior prosecutor ‘A.’ Are they saying that he shouldn’t lead the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office because he was seriously harmed by this administration?” Yoon asked.

The Joongang Ilbo printed “A” in place of where Yoon mentioned the senior prosecutor’s name.

Yoon compared this senior prosecutor to “a freedom fighter during the Japanese colonial occupation” and said there was no reason to be afraid of him. While Yoon was serving as director of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office and prosecutor general, Han worked alongside him to investigate corruption by former presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye while serving as third deputy director at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office and director of the corruption and violent crimes division at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.

Han is quite close with Yoon’s family, and he has even spoken with Yoon’s wife Kim Keon-hee on the phone several times.

Critics argue that Yoon’s remarks are inappropriate for a presidential candidate. By publicly declaring in advance that the current administration and the ruling party are corrupt and that he will investigate them if he takes office, he’s treating his political opponents as targets for elimination, rather than counterparts for dialogue or compromise.

That stance also contradicts what Yoon himself said during the PPP primary in October 2021. When Won Hee-ryong, then a presidential candidate, asked Yoon about his standard for distinguishing judicial procedure from political retaliation, Yoon said, “On a practical level, matters that come up naturally ought to be processed. If you target someone specifically and rifle through everything they did over the past year, that’s political retribution.”

Yoon’s remarks are also consistent with what Kim Keon-hee said during seven hours’ worth of telephone calls that were recently made public. In a phone call with a reporter, Kim said that YouTube channels that had uploaded critical reports about her “probably won’t get off scot-free” if her husband became president.

“Holding power means that the police will book people on their own even if you don’t order them to do so. That’s what’s so scary about it,” she said.

While Kim said the police would handle matters on their own without being ordered to do so, Yoon has now essentially instructed them to investigate corruption by the Moon administration before even being elected president.

“We need to draw a distinction with the administration of Park Geun-hye, who was investigated because she had violated the constitutional order to such an extent that she was impeached [and convicted] by the Constitutional Court,” said Oh Dong-suk, a professor of law at Ajou University, in a telephone call with the Hankyoreh on Wednesday.

“In addition, Yoon’s early mention of investigations marks a move toward division and conflict, rather than unity. That’s the wrong attitude to have.”

While Yoon stressed the role of the “system” in investigating corruption, arguing that “the president isn’t involved,” some don’t find that convincing. The problem is that the leaders of Korea’s law enforcement agencies can’t disregard the commander in chief’s determination to do something.

Since Yoon has also signaled that he means to appoint a close ally in the prosecution service as director of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, his promise not to get involved doesn’t inspire confidence that investigations would be unaffected by his intentions.

“This was basically an overt declaration that he means to carry out political retaliation. He’s essentially telling the prosecutors to go on a fishing exhibition because they’re bound to find something. That’s an inappropriate remark that overlaps with what his wife Kim Keon-hee said about retaliation,” said an attorney with experience in the prosecution service.

“I suspect that Yoon was responding without thinking of the political implications from his perspective as a [former] prosecutor, rather than as a presidential candidate. At any rate, since he’s a former prosecutor and a strong contender for president who is leading the polls, prosecutors could take his remarks as a signal to conduct investigations on their own initiative. Yoon needs to be particularly cautious when talking about investigations,” said Eom Gyeong-yeong, director of the Zeitgeist Institute.

The Blue House said Wednesday that Yoon’s remarks were “very inappropriate and offensive.”

The Democratic Party also said that Yoon had “revealed his ambitions for political retaliation and a ‘Republic of Prosecutors.’”

Yoon responded by saying, “I was simply making the commonplace observation that when a new administration comes to power, issues with the previous administration are naturally brought to light over the next few years and [investigations] take place according to the normal workings of the judicial system. As long as [the ruling party] doesn’t think any issues will come up, it doesn’t need to get worked up over this.”

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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