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Attack on prosecution continues

Three investigating Moon associates have been reshuffled away
Jan 24,2020
The Ministry of Justice on Thursday replaced three deputy heads of district prosecution offices who have been supervising investigations into corruption and abuse of power allegations against key associates of President Moon Jae-in.

The moves were part of a larger reshuffle involving 257 mid-level officials of the prosecution and 502 rank-and-file prosecutors. They were ordered to start their new jobs on Feb. 3.

All four deputy heads of the Seoul central office, which handles high-profile cases involving business people, politicians and senior government officials, were replaced following the installation of Lee Sung-yoon as the new chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in the first shake-up on Jan. 8.

Shin Bong-soo, second deputy head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, was appointed as the head of the Pyeongtaek District Office. Song Gyeong-ho, third deputy head of the same district office, was appointed as the head of the Yeoju District Office.

Shin was supervising an investigation into the Blue House officials’ alleged abuse of power to influence the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election to help Moon’s friend win. Song was the supervisor of probes into financial and academic corruption allegations against former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family.

Shin Ja-yong, the first deputy head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, and Han Seok-ri, the fourth deputy head of the office, were assigned to head the Busan Eastern District and Daegu Western District offices.

Hong Seung-wuk, deputy head of the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office, was sent to head the Cheonan branch of the Suwon District Office. Hong was supervising a case in which Blue House aides allegedly abused its power to shut down an internal investigation into former Busan Deputy Mayor Yoo Jae-soo, an associate of Moon.

The latest reshuffle follows the Jan. 8 shake-up, which effectively dismantled Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl’s team of loyalists.

Despite Yoon’s request to keep department heads of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office for the sake of continuity in ongoing probes, the ministry reassigned 18 of them to other district offices.

Yang Seok-jo, a deputy head of the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office’s anticorruption department and organized crimes department, was demoted to work as a prosecutor of the Daejeon High Prosecutors’ Office. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae already warned Yang of possible punishment after Yang condemned his new boss earlier this month for having tried to influence a probe into Cho.

The ministry dismissed six senior prosecutors who had resisted new laws that would take away some of the prosecution’s investigative powers and hand them over to the police.

The ministry justified its latest reshuffle in press release. It said the reshuffle is a follow-up to the Jan. 8 shake-up of top prosecutors, supports the upcoming reorganization of the prosecution and promotes new laws that will redefine the prosecutors’ scope of authorities.

The ministry also said the reshuffle was to “normalize the abnormal by prompting fairness in appointments and the stability of the organization.” It said the shake-up in July last year unfairly favored prosecutors from some specific departments, such as special investigation departments, and about 50 mid-level officials have resigned since then.

“This time, we conducted a fair reshuffle to end favoritism and elitism, promote human rights and better serve the people,” the ministry said.

The ministry also insisted that it had no intention of obstructing ongoing probes. It said most members of the teams investigating high-profile cases remained unchanged.

The head of the public security crime department II, which investigates the Blue House’s alleged influence over the Ulsan mayoral election, was kept, as well as the anticorruption crime IV department head who is investigating an accounting scandal of Samsung BioLogics.

The head of the anticorruption crime II department, who oversaw the probe into Cho and his family, however, was moved to head the anticorruption department at the Daegu District Office.

“Because criticism snowballed that the reshuffle is being used to obstruct investigations into the Moon administration, the ministry appeared to have decided to keep some prosecutors,” said a senior prosecutor-turned-lawyer. “The ministry still replaced all deputy heads [of the Seoul Central District Office] while keeping only a few of the department heads, making sure to accomplish what it wants.”

Members of the law community also said the ministry is embarrassing itself by defending the latest reshuffle as a move to “normalize the abnormal,” because the July shake-up was also conducted by the current administration after Moon appointed Yoon as the new prosecutor general.

BY SER MYO-JA, KANG KWANG-WOO [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]