“They kept their cool,” said President Yoon Suk Yeol, the then Public Prosecutor General, regarding the Lee Myung-bak administration during the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office’s inspection of the administration in October 2019. “There wasn’t much intervention when those close to the president and his brother were imprisoned. It was quite different with the Park Geun-hye administration,” he said. It means that the Lee administration did not try to nullify investigations by arbitrarily changing regulations or to retaliate with personnel appointments despite investigations into the corruption of influential figures in the government. While the comment aroused strong opposition from the figures of the Moon Jae-in administration, some members of the legal circles agreed with it.
It has been four years since the investigation of Cheongwadae’s involvement with the election of a mayor of Ulsan was conducted. It took three years and ten months for the verdict of the first trial to be made since prosecution as there were many issues from investigation to prosecution. The indictment of the case was handled confidentially at some point on the excuse of the global standards. Given how bold the investigation was for directly targeting Cheongwadae under former President Moon Jae-in, there was quite an aftermath, with most of the prosecutors involved in the investigation having been demoted.
The guilty verdict of the first trial of the case has some implications for the Yoon administration, which will soon begin its third year in office. It warns that the current administration should remain strictly neutral when it comes to the management of next year’s general elections and that the administration will soon be under the review of the prosecution and the police for any wrongdoings. The Moon administration's involvement with the election of an Ulsan mayor was investigated, targeting the 2018 local elections, which took place in the second year of the Moon administration.
Tensions between the prosecution and the government grow from the third year of an administration. It is around the time when the influence of those who have been enjoying power around the government turns into more serious cases. Prosecutor General Lee Won-seok will keep in consideration that the prosecution’s neutrality and trustworthiness depend on how rigorous standards are applied to alleged corruption cases caused by the administration led by a former prosecutor general. In particular, Lee is known for his preciseness during his time on site.
On the other hand, President Yoon was formerly the head of the prosecution but is currently the leader of state affairs. This is the time when he needs to remain ‘cool.’ Any issues with those close to him and problems during the process of policy-making and implementation may turn into criminal cases. There were already attempts to distort the intention of President Yoon and carry out their own intentions. The Democratic Party of Korea are putting pressure on the investigation of the current administration by focusing on the double special prosecutions of the Deutsch Motors case and the Daejang-dong five billion won club case. The double special prosecutions to begin soon indicate the beginning of complicated fights between the presidential office, prosecution, and opposition party.
The presidential office should review whether the ‘system’ is working properly. “There can be issues with any organizations but there are systems to correct them and the systems are at work,” said Minister of Justice Han Dong-hoon. The presidential office should look into if this is the case for the Presidential Secretariat.
A small issue can grow into a much bigger problem beyond control if certain issues are overlooked or kept quiet because they belong to ‘our side’ or ‘seniors.’ Despite the suspicion that it was intentionally set up, the process of delivering a bag to First Lady Kim Keon-hee is causing massive scandal. Whether by recruiting highly capable people to the presidential office, appointing special inspectors, or reviving the position of a senior secretary to the president for civil affairs, the presidential office’s function to look after civil affairs should be strengthened. That’s how the administration remains cool. Without anyone to be held accountable or an effective system, risks only grow.