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Ethics? What ethics?

Dec 10,2019
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Chun Young-gi
The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Although it is for prosecutorial reform, nominating Rep. Choo Mi-ae as the justice minister seems inappropriate. Most of all, Choo was the chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), who controlled the entire campaign process of the June 13, 2018 local elections, which the opposition party suspects involved election rigging.

In that election, the police conducted an investigation into the aides of a candidate for the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), based on information offered by the campaign of the DP’s Ulsan mayoral candidate and compiled by the Blue House. As a result, the LKP lost the election. There is reasonable doubt that the DP, the Blue House and police colluded to influence the election.

The prosecution is, therefore, investigating an election rigging scandal that is as serious as the rigged election of the Syngman Rhee government in 1960. In other words, Choo was the head of the DP during the local election, and she was the leader of the group that is a subject of the prosecution’s probe. Of course, Choo may say that she knows nothing about what happened between the DP’s Ulsan mayoral campaign and the Blue House, and between the office of the presidential senior secretary of the Blue House and the Ulsan Police Agency. Even so, she cannot be completely disconnected to the scandal.

If Choo becomes justice minister, no one will believe her argument that she has no intention of intervening in the investigation. If she uses her power and reassigns prosecutors and investigators handling the Baek Won-woo case and Yoo Jae-soo case to other posts, everyone will question her motive. She will face suspicions that she is abusing the power of the office to protect herself and the DP.
Just like Cho, Choo faces a conflict of interests in the Public Service Ethics Act.

Clause 3 in Article 2-2 of the act, which specifies the obligation to prevent conflicts of interest, says, “No public official shall pursue private interests or grant illegal preferential benefits to any individual, institution or organization using his or her public position and shall unfairly use the information acquired during his or her incumbency for private purposes or have another person use such information unlawfully.”

There is also another legal dispute. If Choo reassigns prosecutors assigned to controversial cases concerning the Blue House, that is also against Article 123 of the Criminal Act. A public official who abused his or her official authority shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than five years and suspension, it stipulates. Choo, a former judge, knows it well.

These controversies were not caused entirely by Choo. President Moon Jae-in, who nominated Choo, will be responsible. It is worrisome that the Blue House is making repeated mistakes in selecting a justice minister. We also wonder if the Blue House is really functioning properly as it is presenting inconsistent explanations concerning the scandals. If it is not, that’s an even more serious problem.

In a civilized country based on the rule of law, no one is above the law. Benjamin Netanyahu — the Israeli prime minister — was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in November. As other leaders have always said, Netanyahu insists that it is an attempt at a coup by the prosecution.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, however, dismissed the argument. “In the prime minister’s affairs I found there was evidence pointing to grave actions allegedly being committed, which carry a reasonable likelihood of conviction,” Mandelblit said. “For this reason it is my duty by law to indict. It is not a choice. It is an obligation. Thus it is in the case of any citizen, and thus I acted here.”

The prosecution led by Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl obtained from police the original report created by the Blue House in October as a part of its investigation into the election rigging allegation of the Ulsan mayoral election. The Blue House and the DP officials insist that they did not “fabricate” the information and only “summarized” it. However, there is no doubt that the Blue House processed the information to create the report and that the Blue House was the source of the report that triggered the investigation. It was an investigation ordered by the Blue House. Yoon is investigating it because there is suspicions of election law violation.

The Blue House and the DP must not label a proper action by the prosecution as resistance to reform. If they rampantly abuse power, they will end up in jail. It’s happened before.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 9, Page 34