State prosecutors summoned and privately questioned Dongyang University professor Jeong Gyeong-shim, the wife of Justice Minister Cho Kuk, on Saturday again after Thursday. Large-scale candlelight vigils urging prosecutorial reform took place at a site near the public prosecutors’ office on the day when Jeong was called in and questioned. With prosecutors’ grilling of Jeong, prosecutorial investigation into the Cho family appears to be nearing the end. When the ongoing probe of Jeong is concluded, chances are high that prosecutors will directly target Minister Cho himself.
While prosecutorial investigation is picking up speed, the ruling party is raising voice demanding prosecutorial reform, and increasing pressure on the prosecution under Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-yeol. Pro-government figures including Roh Moo-hyun Foundation Chairman Rhyu Shi-min are ruthlessly blasting prosecutors, calling the probe “Yoon Seok-yeol’s revolt,” or “Prosecutors’ coup.” Some pro-President Moon Jae-in people are staging cyber terror by uploading photos, profile and the spouse’s profile of the only female among the three prosecutors that participated in the raids and search operation into Cho’s home, and even slandering her. In contrast, opposition parties are raising suspicion that the prosecution is showing “lenience in the probe,” accusing prosecutors for not arresting Jeong immediately.
Prosecutorial reform should aim to not only prevent the possibility of misuse of uncontrolled prosecutorial authority to ensure the protection of human rights, but also secure political neutrality of prosecutors from those in power. If the probe of the Cho family is not conducted properly due to the political circle’s pressure on the prosecution, prosecutorial reform that the ruling party and the Moon administration are strongly pushing for will be suspected as being politically motivated.
Prosecutorial reform is one thing and the probe of the Cho family is quite another. Minister Cho’s failure to resign despite the investigation into his family adds to the burden on the prosecution. While it is desirable for the prosecution to change outdated practice of investigation to ensure suspects’ human rights, many ordinary people feel angry about the situation where in Cho’s wife has become the first beneficiary of such reform. This naturally gives critics justification to criticize the Moon administration for siding with the administration’s allies and Minister Cho as power elite. The political circles should stop influencing on the prosecutorial probe, and instead wait to see until the end of the investigation, before making cool-headed judgment on the outcomes.
For their part, prosecutors should speed up in their probe as well. Forty-one day have passed since prosecutors launched their probe starting with raids and search operations at Seoul National University, Pusan National University and other sites. They naturally will feel burden while probing the family of the incumbent justice minister for the first time in history, but if the probe is protracted longer, they will only cause unnecessary misunderstanding such as allegations of excessive investigation. The prosecution led by Yoon should prove the legitimacy of their investigation into the case, and conclude the probe and announce the results sooner rather than later.