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Resisting the law (KOR)

Feb 06,2020
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae continues to react recklessly to the alleged intervention of the Blue House in the Ulsan mayoral election in 2018. Following a massive reshuffle of prosecutors, obstruction of their investigations into the case, and an order to downsize their indictments, she went so far as to refuse to make public the full indictments of people close to President Moon Jae-in. She defied the 15-year-old statutory requirement for the ministry to deliver such information to the National Assembly because, she claimed, it is a “wrong practice.”

In the face of opposition by her aides in the ministry, Choo rejected the required submission of the relevant information to the legislature. A law mandating the delivery of what’s inside public indictments to the Legislation and Judiciary Committee of the Assembly was enacted by the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration in the 2000s as part of judiciary reforms. Now, Choo is under attack for resisting democratic oversight of her ministry and the top law enforcement agency.

Her disregard for the National Assembly Act is utterly irresponsible and shameless. Why is Choo — a former judge — responding to the case so sensitively? Are there any particular reasons for her not to disclose what’s in the indictments? The public harbors strong suspicions about what really forced her to make such a drastic decision.

Could she reach that decision without orders from the Blue House? Some critics say that the string-pullers are Choi Kang-wook, a presidential secretary for civil service discipline, and Lee Kwang-cheol, a former secretary for civil service at the Blue House. The content of the indictments of 13 Blue House staff, which were partly exposed to the media, manifests how critically they violated the rule of law.

It was revealed that current Ulsan Mayor Song Cheol-ho — an old friend of President Moon — met with Ulsan Police chief Hwang Un-ha to ask him to probe allegations against Kim Gi-hyeon, Ulsan’s mayor at the time, in order to smear him ahead of his race for reelection as mayor. It was also disclosed that Hwang sought help from the Office of the Secretary of Civil Affairs at the Blue House after the prosecution denied an arrest warrant for the mayor.

Given such fishy behavior at the Blue House, can the Moon administration define itself as a democratic government? Was Moon’s much-touted vow to create a “fair, just and equal society” rhetoric — or a twisted joke? According to a survey by the Korea Legislation Research Institute, 64 percent of respondents said that our laws only protect the rights of those in power.

It is likely that the government wants to block any case involving the Blue House due to a possible impact on the April 15 parliamentary election — and on the very survival of the administration. But a methodical obstruction of investigation from Choo and Moon’s aides in the Blue House is far from prosecutorial reforms. We hope that Moon’s remarks — “A genuine reform of the mighty law enforcement agency starts with investigating the powers that be” — were not meant as a mockery.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 6, Page 30