President Moon Jae-in kept uncharacteristically aloof on Wednesday after Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae suspended Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl. Instead, he posted an innocuous message on Facebook, as if none of this had anything to do with him. It is clear that he wants to stay behind the scenes while his henchmen and women do the dirty work. And it has been very dirty. The ruling Minjoo Party hurled vicious attacks at Yoon. Minjoo leader Lee Nak-yon said the allegations of misconduct the Justice Ministry claims to have unearthed against Yoon are “shocking” and proposed to hold a National Assembly hearing to grill the prosecutor-general. But the charges are trivial and unproven, and a bunch of investigators who were sent to Yoon’s office could not even produce a warrant and were shown the door. If Lee is shocked by them he has a very low shockability threshold, which seems unlikely for the floor leader of such a scandal-ridden bunch.
It was Moon himself who promoted Yoon to prosecutor-general because he was impressed by his track record of hunting down corruption in the Park Geun-hye administration. Moon even told Yoon to choose his targets of investigation “without being swayed by those in power.” But the situation changed drastically when Yoon came for Moon’s cronies, such as fly-by-night justice minister Cho Kuk and his family. Prosecutors discovered that the vice mayor of Busan, another Moon crony who calls him “brother,” had taken bribes and tried to duck an audit. Then they discovered that Cheong Wa Dae officials had meddled in mayoral elections in the southeastern port city of Ulsan to elect an old friend of Moon’s.
Among other shenanigans to bring this monster he created to heel, Moon appointed Choo justice minister, and as soon as she took office she reassigned prosecutors who had been investigating government officials. Korea is probably one of the few countries in the so-called First World where the suspect of an investigation reshuffles the prosecutors investigating him or her. After halting the corruption probe, Choo heaved prosecutors loyal to her into key posts to launch a counteroffensive. Even then she was unable to sink her hooks into anything meaty enough to implicate the prosecutor-general in a serious offense. All of her leads were based on the one-sided testimony of fraudsters. Four times over the course of a month, she ordered her people to investigate Yoon, who refused to be subjected to it. Allegations of offenses committed by the prosecutor-general’s family, which even the ruling party said was not an issue, are now being handled by a special team of prosecutors who take their orders directly from the minister.
The situation may look like a slugfest between the justice minister and the prosecutor-general, but that is exactly what Moon wants people to think. In reality, it is an attempt coming right from the top to neutralize a probe into charges that implicate the president.
Yoon appears to have fatally blotted his copy book when he unleashed prosecutors on a dodgy economic feasibility study conducted by the government that led to the early closure of the Wolseong No. 1 nuclear reactor. The Board of Audit and Inspection found that Cheong Wa Dae officials pressured nuclear power operators to skew the results so the study would to meet Moon’s ambition for a nuclear phaseout. Was it someone close to Moon who told Yoon to hold his horses, and did Yoon refuse to comply? Is that what is upsetting the president? There are other investigations that are taking place right now whose trail of misconduct seems to lead to key members of Moon’s team.
Moon seems to have seen no way out but to drive the prosecutor-general from office. But at the same time he does not want to get his hands dirty, or no dirtier than they already are. This is a cover-up, pure and simple.
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