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Prosecutor General Lee Won-seok's call for delay ignored

Prosecutor General Lee Won-seok's call for delay ignored

Posted May. 16, 2024 08:24,   

Updated May. 16, 2024 08:24


Prosecutor General Lee Won-seok's request to Justice Minister Park Sung-jae to delay the announcement of high-ranking prosecutors' appointments on Monday was reportedly disregarded. Despite Lee's suggestion to postpone the appointments due to ongoing major investigations, the Ministry of Justice proceeded as planned. This resulted in a significant 7-second silence from Prosecutor General Lee during a press inquiry regarding personnel coordination, followed by an indirect expression‎ of dissatisfaction.

The Prosecutors’ Office Act mandates that the Minister of Justice shall listen to the opinion of the Prosecutor General and recommend the position of prosecutor. The longstanding practice of discussing personnel matters between the minister and the prosecutor general has been enshrined in law since 2004, aiming to ensure that the prosecutor general's preferences are reflected in practice. This is essential for the prosecutor general to assert his authority in personnel matters, enabling him to lead investigations independently and shield the prosecution from undue influence. However, the recent personnel appointment process merely involved consultation and effectively amounted to bypassing the prosecutor general, both in terms of content and timing.

President Yoon Suk Yeol understands the critical importance of consulting with the prosecutor general in prosecutorial appointments. In January 2020, then-Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae reassigned prosecutorial executives leading investigations involving key ruling party officials to local areas without consulting President Yoon, who held the position of prosecutor general at the time. Yoon protested, asserting, “(The Prosecutors’ Office Act) personnel consultation means having a practical discussion.” The recurrence of similar controversies during President Yoon's administration raises concerns. It is now suggested that this repetition may be linked to the investigation into First Lady Kim Keon Hee. The opposition party criticizes this as “a signal that they will tighten their grip on the prosecution and make the First Lady bulletproof.”

The public's focus now shifts to whether investigations concerning the first lady will proceed impartially following the recent personnel appointments. While Prosecutor General Lee has expressed his commitment to maintaining the integrity of investigations, limitations persist, particularly regarding the Deutsche Motors investigation, which remains unresolved since President Yoon's presidency. The outcome of the investigation hinges on various factors, including the stance of the new Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office and potential replacements of chief prosecutors overseeing cases linked to the First Lady. In light of these developments, the prosecutor general must uphold investigative principles and ensure accountability. Any perceived failure in investigating matters related to the First Lady could incur significant repercussions for both the President and the prosecution, underscoring the weight of their responsibilities.