Major personnel shuffle reassigns prosecutors leading investigations into Korea’s first lady

Posted on : 2024-05-14 16:54 KST Modified on : 2024-05-14 16:54 KST
The blitz reassignment of several high-ranking prosecutors casts doubt over investigations into alleged impropriety by the first lady
Lee Chang-su, the newly appointed chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. (Yonhap)
Lee Chang-su, the newly appointed chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. (Yonhap)

Amid ongoing investigations into the first lady for alleged manipulation of Deutsch Motors stock prices and for accepting a luxury handbag from a prominent pastor, the Ministry of Justice has replaced the head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. Lee Chang-su, 53, formerly head of the Jeonju District Prosecutors’ Office and a long-time ally of President Yoon Suk-yeol, has replaced Song Kyung-ho. 

Lee’s appointment was part of a rather unprecedented reshuffle of the top ranks of the prosecution service that comes at a point when the prosecutor general has only four months left in his term. Many are calling the personnel shuffle a blatant attempt to block the prosecutors’ investigations into the first lady. 

The Justice Ministry announced on Monday that 39 prosecutors ranked at the district chief level would be promoted or transferred. Lee Chang-su has been selected to lead the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, the largest prosecutorial office in the nation. In September 2020, Yoon appointed Lee to be the spokesperson for the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. He is publicly known to enjoy close ties with the president.

“Yoon has placed someone he really trusts at the head of the Seoul Central District Office,” said an attorney and former senior prosecutor. 

As the head of the prosecution service’s Seongnam branch, Lee led investigations into Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung for corruption allegations related to real-estate development and the Seongnam Football Club. After being promoted to the head of the Jeonju District Prosecutors’ Office, he investigated the former son-in-law of former President Moon Jae-in for nepotism charges related to the budget carrier Eastar Jet. 

The personnel shuffle involving several top-ranking prosecutors being replaced comes at a time when Prosecutor General Lee One-seok only has four months left in his term. Even among prosecutors, the consensus is that such a massive reorganization should have occurred after the appointment of the new prosecutor general, not before.  

Song Kyung-ho, whose position Lee will be taking, has been appointed as the head of the Busan High Prosecutors’ Office. Song was outspoken about the necessity of investigating the first lady on charges of stock manipulation related to Deutsch Motors. His stance created a rift with the presidential office, inciting rumors that Yoon would move to oust him. 

In addition to Song, all high-level prosecutors tasked with investigating the first lady were replaced. Kim Chang-jin, who headed the investigation into Kim Keon-hee’s acceptance of a luxury handbag, was transferred to a clerical position at the Institute of Justice. Go Hyeong-gon, who headed the investigation into the Deutsche Motors case, was transferred to the Suwon High Prosecutors’ office. 

“This personnel shift is an attempt to shield the first lady,” said Lee Hae-sik, a senior spokesperson for the Democratic Party. 

“The president talks self-reflection, only to turn around and protect his own,” he added.

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

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