[Column] To all the prosecutors jumping into politics

Posted on : 2024-03-04 17:29 KST Modified on : 2024-03-04 17:29 KST
The trend of prosecutors running for office betrays the political divide within the prosecution service
President Yoon Suk-yeol and People Power Party interim leader Han Dong-hoon speak while gazing out the window of the presidential office in Yongsan on Jan. 29, 2024, during a meeting between the president and the leadership of the ruling party. (courtesy of the presidential office)
President Yoon Suk-yeol and People Power Party interim leader Han Dong-hoon speak while gazing out the window of the presidential office in Yongsan on Jan. 29, 2024, during a meeting between the president and the leadership of the ruling party. (courtesy of the presidential office)

By Jung Hwan-bong, legal affairs editor

With Korea’s general election fast approaching, three incumbent public prosecutors have announced their intention to run for office.  
The three prosecutors in the spotlight are Lee Sung-yoon, a former chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office during the Moon Jae-in administration; Park Yong-ho, who, until recently, served as the head of the Masan District Prosecutors’ Office; and finally Kim Sang-min, who, while serving as the head of the 9th criminal division of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, sent out a text that he was “born and bred in Changwon,” to appeal to the constituency in advance.
Add former chief prosecutor Shin Sung-sik, who was removed from office in February, to the mix, and that makes four prosecutors who are dreaming of an office in Yeouido before the ink has even dried on their resignations.
Two have obtained party membership to the Democratic Party, while the other two have obtained membership to the People Power Party.
Of course, prosecutors are entitled to make career pivots. That being said, the citizens of a country also have the freedom to be wary and suspicious of their choices.
It’s only natural to doubt whether those who eagerly don flashy windbreakers in People Power red or Democratic blue as soon as they discard their black prosecutor’s robes actually investigated and prosecuted their cases fairly.
Doubt of this nature is not limited to the individual prosecutors running for office, but affects the credibility of the entire prosecution service.
Prosecutors take an oath when they are appointed to their posts. According to the presidential decree on this official pledge, a prosecutor who takes the oath signs and seals two copies of the oath. One copy is kept by the Ministry of Justice and the other is kept by the prosecutor.
Those who take the oath pledge to “uphold justice and human rights as representatives serving the public interest,” “to be fair prosecutors who proceed with truth as their only guide,” and to “do everything in their power to serve the people and the nation.”
Now, however, we cannot help but question whether prosecutors have started representing political factions and have started to serve certain political cliques.
This situation in which current prosecutors are talking of running for elected office is only the tip of the iceberg. Just as the moon’s gravity naturally pulls seawater to create waves, such bold moves are being driven by a prosecution service currently divided by politics.
Just recall how Shin Sung-sik said of Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, who is currently on trial in several cases: “We’ve conducted thorough investigations, but he’s totally clean.” 
Those in power, on the other hand, serve in totally biased government agencies.

South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee and her mother raked in nearly 2.3 billion won (US$1.73 million) from trading Deutsch Motors shares. Despite the ever-growing pile of evidence pointing to stock manipulation, the Justice Ministry is too busy defending her. After President Yoon Suk-yeol vetoed a special bill calling for a special counsel investigation into his wife, the Justice Ministry released a statement deriding allegations against the first lady as a witch hunt.

“Under the Moon Jae-in administration,” the official statement read, “prosecutors were lambasted by the public for investing over two years on an overreaching investigation into Kim Keon-hee for something she did 12 to 13 years before she even married the current president. Yet at the end of it all, not only did they fail to indict Kim, they couldn’t even get a subpoena.” 

Yet if the charges were invalid, they could have just chosen not to indict. For an institution that couldn’t muster the courage to provide a proper statement of reason for a failed indictment for so long, they sure move quickly when someone overpowers them. 

If that’s how they’re going to do things, we may as well disband the current prosecutorial jurisdictions of the Seoul Eastern District and the Seoul Southern District and resurrect them as the Seoul People Power Party Prosecutors and the Seoul Democratic Party Prosecutors. We could then leave them to openly go to war with each other.  

This whole thing started with the investigation into former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. At the time, the Moon administration was clashing with the prosecution service, which was led by Yoon Suk-yeol. Ultimately, prosecutors who were too enthusiastic about the investigation were either professionally disciplined or demoted. 

When the political opposition gained power, the formerly shamed prosecutors returned with a vengeance — and they were out for blood. The prosecutors that had replaced them under Moon were excommunicated. So where did they turn? Politics. 

Yoon Suk-yeol, a prosecutor general who had clashed with the Blue House, became president, and his right-hand man became the justice minister. That former justice minister is now the interim leader of the ruling People Power Party. Prosecutors who were in turn ousted under the Yoon administration are seeking seats in the National Assembly to realize dreams of a vicious comeback. Other prosecutors are trying to leave their posts to jump on the Yoon Suk-yeol/Han Dong-hoon bandwagon, hoping to ride their coattails. Amid such brazen shamelessness, it’s hard to find any prosecutor who exhibits anything resembling shame or a pang of conscience. 

Those still standing are left to deal with the consequences. I propose that incumbent prosecutors review the oaths they took before they accepted their posts. The oath that bears their signatures begins with the following: “From this moment onward, I am being called to serve my country and its people as a prosecutor under the glorious Republic of Korea.” 

I call on prosecutors to reflect on their position under the “glorious Republic of Korea” and to cherish it a bit more. Even in today’s times, when their senior is sitting in the presidential office, I call on them to remember their duty as “a courageous prosecutor who is willing to bring light to the darkness of injustice.” 

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

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