[Editorial] Filled with Yoon’s allies, Korea’s prosecution service has dropped all pretense of neutrality

Posted on : 2023-09-22 17:00 KST Modified on : 2023-09-22 17:00 KST
Another round of appointments has placed more figures with ties to the president in high positions within the prosecution service
President Yoon Suk-yeol appoints Lee One-seok as prosecutor general on Sept. 16, 2022. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol appoints Lee One-seok as prosecutor general on Sept. 16, 2022. (Yonhap)

In the latest mid-level prosecutorial reshuffle announced by the Ministry of Justice, prosecutors belonging to what’s been dubbed the “Yoon Suk-yeol division” dominated key positions. Such prosecutors with ties to Yoon have so far filled many senior positions within the service, including heads of district branches.

It is highly inappropriate for the prosecution service, which ought to be politically independent, to be dominated by prosecutors who enjoy personal ties with the president. How can we trust these prosecutors to remain politically neutral in investigations involving politicians?

The mid-level prosecutors who have been spearheading the investigations into Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the Democratic Party, are unaffected by the shuffle and will continue to head up the probe. The intention is to continue the investigation into the leader of the main opposition party, which has already been ongoing for nearly two years.

In the past, prosecutors have tried to strike a balance between ruling and opposition parties in their investigations of politicians. Even if they were actually targeting one side or the other, they would at least put on airs of being neutral, as they were conscious of the public’s watchful, scathing eye.

But under Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon and Prosecutor General Lee One-seok — two members of Yoon’s core entourage — they’ve done away with such pretense even. Maybe they’re confident that Yoon has their back. Maybe they simply have their noses so high in the air they don’t care what Koreans think.

Currently, prosecutors refrain from even starting investigations that would burden the Yoon administration. Some of the key players in the alleged mishandling of an investigation into the death of a marine corporal — an incident involving the presidential office — are civilians who are subject to investigation by prosecutors. However, the prosecution service has refused to investigate them, citing the investigation by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials as an excuse.

As for the investigation into the tragic crowd crush in Itaewon last year, which was handed to the prosecution service by the police, the indictment of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency chief, Kim Kwang-ho, has been delayed for more than nine months.

Rumors abound that those who sit atop the prosecution service are stifling indictments being proposed by investigators on the front lines. If true, this is unacceptable. This division of prosecutors with loyalties to Yoon only has eyes for Lee Jae-myung, and as a result has failed to pay adequate attention to the pain and suffering of families who lost loved ones in the Itaewon crowd crush and the family of the marine corporal who lost his life while carrying rescues during intense flooding.

Ruled by those with ties to the president, the prosecution service now acts as if it shares a common destiny with the Yoon administration. One wonders if prosecutors are trying to mobilize their powers as much as possible to ensure the ruling party comes out of next year’s general election victorious.

They have labeled Shin Hak-lim’s interview of Kim Man-bae for Newstapa and others as an attempt to “manipulate public opinion in service of influencing the presidential election,” and created a special investigation team to target media outlets critical of the government, even raiding the offices and homes of reporters.

Prosecutors aren’t even trying to hide their intention of stamping out unfavorable coverage of the current administration and ruling party ahead of April’s elections.

The brazen immorality of this Yoon Suk-yeol line of prosecutors is eroding the political neutrality of the public prosecution service.

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

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