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Obstruction of justice

Sept 16,2019
The Justice Ministry under new minister Cho Kuk has come under fire after senior officials have sought to exclude Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from the ongoing probes on Cho’s family. On the day Cho was inaugurated, senior officials of the ministry met and proposed to top prosecutors with close ties to the Blue House to launch an independent investigation to look into Cho’s case.

The opposition lambasted the Blue House for attempting to tamper with the prosecutorial investigation. Under Article 65 of the constitution, the president, prime minister, cabinet ministers or other legal government employees could face impeachment if their conduct in office goes against the constitution and laws. They can also face civil and criminal lawsuits.

The prosecution complains that the slander on its chief could fall under “obstruction of justice.” A relative of Cho who is the de facto owner of the controversial private equity fund operating exclusively for the Cho family called up the fund’s CEO while he was overseas, asking him to lie about the investment details during questioning by prosecutors. Prosecutors claim they are under even greater political pressure than during the period when they investigated former President Park Geun-hye and her friend Choi Soon-sil for influence peddling.

In the United States and elsewhere, obstruction of justice is a serious crime. The U.S. Congress in 2017 tabled a motion to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump for obstructing judiciary investigations. Trump was accused of obstructing justice by firing F.B.I. director James Comey who had spearheaded the investigation into whether Trump’s associates coordinated with Russia to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Special counsel Robert Mueller who had investigated the case testified to Congress that there had been 10 times when Trump might have obstructed justice by meddling in the federal investigation.

Similar attempts are being made by senior members of the Blue House, ruling party and government over the case with Cho.

Cho named Hwang Hee-seok — a civil rights activist-turned-head of the Human Rights Bureau of the Justice Ministry — to head a task team in the ministry on prosecutorial reform. His appointments could be understood as an attempt to intimidate the prosecutors on his case. If he truly wishes to see through reforms, he should wait until all the interrogations and investigations surrounding him are complete. Prosecutors cannot do their best if their jobs are on the line. If Cho attempts intimidation to derail the investigation, the people won’t sit quietly.