The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission announced that the prosecution’s investigation on Justice Minster Choo Mi-ae’s son and her duty as justice minister were independent from each other. That means Choo has no influence over the investigation on her son’s case as the incumbent justice minister. The commission cited the fact that the prosecution has not reported Choo on the investigation on her son and Choo has not commanded investigation on the case as the reason. The basis of the assertion is that Choo is not directly involved in the investigation on her son.
But it is hard to understand that Choo has nothing to do with the investigation because she is in a position of authority including authority over appointment of prosecutors. The commission’s interpretation that says Choo is not related to the investigation just because she does not get official reports from the prosecution and has not used her control over investigation is largely perfunctory.
She already exerted her influence over the investigation by replacing investigation leading staff at the Seoul Eastern District Public Prosecutors’ Office with her close associates by using her authority to appoint prosecutors. Prosecutors leading the investigation may not be free from her influence as a conclusion unfavorable to her could come back as a disadvantage in their career.
The code of conduct for public officials includes recusal or suspension of duty when there is a conflict of interests to prevent this. The commission that manages the government’s anti-corruption policy should create an atmosphere in which public prosecutors can investigate without being swayed by authorities through proactive interpretation of laws and regulations.
When former justice minister Cho Kuk’s wife Jeong Gyeong-shim was investigated by the prosecution in October, the commission announced that there could be a conflict of interests and it was possible to exclude him from his position. But after a year, its stance on a similar matter drastically changed. It is hard to cast away doubts that it is because Jeon Hyeon-hee, former lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Korea who served two terms, was newly appointed as the head of the commission.
The commission said a report on preferential treatment was not protected as whistleblowing when solider A who made the accusation on Choo’s son for the first time asked for whistle blower protection. When criticism mounted over this, the commission took a step back and said it would give positive consideration on protecting A as a whistle blower. The committee for civil rights that has to actively protect brave whistle blowers to fight against corruption of the powerful is more interested in protecting the justice minster rather than doing its job, which is why some call it “a committee for authorities’ rights.”