President Moon Jae-in has appointed a new vice justice minister immediately after the last one resigned in disgust at his hounding of Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl. Moon’s pick is Lee Yong-gu, who is a member of a left-leaning group of judges. He urgently needs a vice minister if he is to convene a disciplinary committee on Friday to review alleged misconduct by Yoon because Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, who is spearheading Moon’s campaign, is prevented by law from appearing herself. The president has rather pathetically been trying to hide behind the justice minister until now to do his dirty work of removing the prosecutor-general for him, but now he has no choice but to come out of the shadows.
Moon is in such a rush to drive Yoon out that he apparently did not even vet the new vice minister. Cheong Wa Dae has been so adamant that newly appointed high-ranking public officials must own only one home, but that principle was thrown overboard for Lee, who owns two apartments in the swish Gangnam area of southern Seoul.
But what is the rush? One explanation is that Moon is losing his head as he desperately tries to cover up evidence of corruption at Cheong Wa Dae, which Yoon has been on the trail of. Yoon seems to have uncovered a trail of evidence of Cheong Wa Dae’s meddling in mayoral election in the southeastern port city of Ulsan in 2018, and direct involvement in the doctoring of a feasibility study that led to the early closure of Korea’s second-oldest nuclear reactor in Wolseong.
At first Moon did not want to get his hands dirty, which is why he appointed Choo Mi-ae as justice minister to serve as his capo. As soon as she was appointed, Choo hastily dismantled a team of prosecutors who were investigating the Ulsan election scandal and started a smear campaign against the prosecutor-general by highlighting unsubstantiated allegations against him by a bunch of known con artists. Choo also replaced key prosecutors seeking to keep Yoon from doing his job.
But the Board of Audit and Inspection has already found clear signs that Moon himself intervened in the feasibility study on the nuclear reactor, and the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office said it would file arrest warrants against officials in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy who were involved in the doctoring. That is what prompted all this mudslinging, culminating in Choo’s failed attempt last week to suspend Yoon from his duties. By the time a court granted an injunction against his suspension, nobody doubted that Moon was pulling the strings from behind the scenes, and now he has been forced blinking into the light.
If there is anyone who needs to be disciplined, it is the president and justice minister. Moon is of course shielded from criminal prosecution while he is president, but Choo’s offenses are grave enough for her to be punished right away. Prosecutors across the country are voicing shock and dismay, and a court of law has pointed out that Choo made gross procedural missteps in trying to drive Yoon out of office. Even a ministry panel handpicked by Choo to discipline Yoon has warned her over her grave improprieties, and Kim Wook-june, a direct subordinate to the head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, who is normally an ally of the government and Choo loyalist, resigned.
All of these events send one unified message to the government to stop its bullying. Of course, if Moon really wants to get rid of Yoon, nobody can stop him. But the president has an obligation to address the public’s suspicions surrounding the Ulsan election and the nuclear reactor study. If he does not, his name will be mud like all his predecessors’.
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