Justice Minister Cho Kuk held a “Dialogue with prosecutors” session with rank and file prosecutors by visiting the Uijeongbu District Public Prosecutors’ Office in northern Gyeonggi Province on Friday. The minister plans hold more meetings with prosecutors by visiting prosecutors’ offices nationwide going forward. The very fact that a justice minister, whose role is to manage and supervise prosecutors, is listening to incumbent prosecutors on site in person to help improve the prosecution system and organizational culture should not be a problem in itself. However, such visits to prosecutors’ office and dialogue should take place at an appropriate time and in a proper way. His tours to prosecutors’ office and meetings with prosecutors easily cause suspicion about his motive, at a time when prosecutorial investigation into himself and his family has brought the entire country to confusion.
Cho’s wife, Dongyang University professor Jeong Gyeong-sim, was indicted on the charge of fabricating a prize certificate signed by the university’s president that Cho’s daughter had received. His daughter herself was summoned and grilled by prosecutors in connection with the suspicion as well. Cho Beom-dong, Cho’s relative who was alleged to be the real owner of a private equity fund invested by Jeong and others, faced an arrest warrant issued by the court. Cho himself is being suspected of having been involved in faking a report on private equity fund management and other irregularities, and is set to be grilled by prosecutors soon. Despite facing such a trouble, Cho assembled prosecutors and addressed reform of the prosecution, an act that constitutes shameless abuse of power as a minister.
Moreover, a prosecutorial reform bill, which calls for establishing a criminal investigation body for high-ranking officials and shifting some of the prosecution’s investigative authority to the police, was already designated as a fast-track bill by the National Assembly. Reform of the prosecution is not a responsibility of the justice minister any more, but that of the National Assembly. Meeting with prosecutors and discussing about prosecutorial reform at this juncture constitutes an act of pressuring top prosecutors who ordered investigation into his case, and the investigation team in charge, and is interpreted as his protest denying the legitimacy of the probe. Unlike his predecessors who took low-profile visits to prosecutors’ offices in the past, Cho has assembled rank and file prosecutors under the banner of “dialogue with prosecutors,” which is apparently an act that is politically motivated and which reminds us of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun’s meeting with prosecutors in the past.
What Minister Cho should be attentive to now is not rank and file prosecutors, but public opinion towards himself. More than 3,000 former and incumbent college professors have collectively signed up a declaration to urge the government to sack Cho. A string of recent public opinion polls have also suggested that Cho’s appointment to the justice minister is inappropriate at best. Irrespective of whether suspected irregularities surrounding him and his family which are under prosecutorial investigation are actually illegal or not, Cho is already unqualified for a high-ranking government post. The public feels totally uncomfortable to see “showy tours” across the nation by the troubled minister at the pretext of seeking dialogue with prosecutors.