South Korean President Moon Jae-in approved on Wednesday a two-month suspension for Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl according to the resolution of the Ministry of Justice’s disciplinary committee. This unprecedented disciplinary action against current prosecutor general whose tenure is guaranteed has removed Yoon immediately from his duties.
The actual level of disciplinary action is lower than expected – a two-month suspension vs. removal or dismissal from the office. Even the disciplinary committee consisting of all pro-ruling party figures couldn’t deny the fact that the reasons for disciplinary action raised by Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae are somewhat exaggerated or groundless. Some also say that the level was adjusted as the disciplinary action itself is likely to be ruled unlawful in future litigations due to the forced reasons for disciplinary action and procedural flaws.
While only three out of six reasons raised by Minister Choo have been accepted by the committee, even the accepted ones are not so convincing. First, one of the reasons cited is that Yoon did not explicitly mention that he wouldn’t engage in politics after retirement. While a top prosecutor’s political activities after retirement should be rightfully criticized, Yoon never explicitly announced his plan for a political career after retirement. Viewing this as a violation of the duty to remain politically neutral is based on a subjective interpretation, in violation of the principle of legality and the principle of evidential justice.
The obstruction of inspections and investigations into Channel A’s coverage of the SillaJen scandal is also within the realm of prosecutor general’s command. Calling it the obstruction of inspections and investigations just because it was not in line with what the Moon administration wanted is a direct violation of the prosecution’s authorities. Minister Choo and the ruling party claimed as if writing and distributing court documents for major cases were illegal inspections, but even the disciplinary committee could not rule them illegal.
The recent disciplinary action will be bad precedence, in which the term of prosecutor general can be rendered useless by the abuse of minister justice’s rights to inspections and disciplinary actions. The current power has disrupted the independence of the prosecution, which has taken roots amid hardships since the democratization of the country by mobilizing the disciplinary right, citing prosecution reform. This will be recorded as the worst destruction of the rule of law in the history of the Constitution and the prosecution.
From Minister Choo who led the violation of the rule of law with unproven reasons for disciplinary action to President Moon, Prime Minister, and the head of the ruling party who either supported or neglected this, none is free from such responsibility. Yoon pledges to file lawsuits to fight the disciplinary action. As it is a matter of great importance – not of Yoon’s personal interests – where the current political power violated the criminal justice system, which should be protected as part of the democratic system, the judiciary should make a quick and impartial judgment.