President Moon Jae-in on Sunday named former Vice Justice Minister Kim Oh-soo as the new Prosecutor General. Prosecutor General is appointed by the president after confirmation by the National Assembly. Since Prosecutor General has two-year tenure, Kim is likely to be the last Prosecutor General of the Moon Jae-in administration and the first Prosecutor General of the next administration. If confirmed, Kim will assume a great responsibility of leading the Prosecution in a political upheaval. Although the power of prosecution has weakened somewhat during the current administration, they still have a powerful authority to directly investigate six major crimes, including corruption and election as well as the right to prosecute.
The nominee is known to have actively responded to the administration’s prosecutorial reform drive rather than delivering the voices of the prosecution while assisting former Justice Ministers Park Sang-ki, Cho Kuk, and Choo Mi-ae as Vice Justice Minister. Kim has earned strong confidence from the administration that he has been mentioned as a candidate for many public posts after retirement, such as the head of the Financial Supervisory Service, the Fair Trade Commission, and the audit committee member of the Board of Audit and Inspection. It was also revealed that he had proposed to the Prosecution to exclude Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from the special investigation team tasked with investigating the Cho Kuk scandal in Sept. 2019. This is why there are voices of concern in and outside the Prosecution about the political neutrality of the Prosecution over the nomination of Kim.
The role and status of Vice Justice Minister, who assists the Justice Minister, and Prosecutor General are clearly different. If Kim is appointed as Prosecutor General, he must change his mindset first. Through the conflict between Choo Mi-ae and Yoon Seok-youl, the public has watched what the administration wants from the Prosecution and realized the importance of political neutrality of the prosecution. This comes at a sensitive time for the country since the presidential election is only 10 months away. In order not to be stigmatized as the royal bodyguards of the administration, the Prosecution must act based on the “law and principles” like it has emphasized countless times.
The Prosecutors’ Office Act stipulates prosecutors’ obligation to stay politically neutral and the Code of Prosecutors’ Ethics says prosecutors must keep in mind that their authority is delegated by the people. The biggest task of the Prosecutor General is to prevent outside influence so that prosecutors can respect the will of the people and conduct investigations and prosecutions while maintaining political neutrality. The future of the Prosecution is uncertain since the administration is reviewing plans to deprive the Prosecution of their right to investigate by establishing a serious crime investigation office. For the Prosecution to find its place, they should first recover people’s confidence in them. The public’s trust in the Prosecution will vary depending on whether the new Prosecutor General stays politically neutral.