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Yoon again rebuts Choo’s proposal

Feb 17,2020
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl once again butted heads with his boss, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, this time directly contradicting her arguments over the prerogatives of state prosecutors.

In a lecture delivered to prosecutors at the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office on Thursday, Yoon argued the prosecutor who conducts a criminal investigation must be given the right to indict suspects in that case, on the legal principle of immediacy.

“Sitting in front of a computer writing up writs is not what an investigation is about,” Yoon said, according to a copy of his speech obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo.

The fact that the country’s top prosecutor holds such a position is not surprising, particularly in the context of the Moon Jae-in administration’s drive to reform the prosecution by chipping away at prosecutors’ vast powers over investigations and indictments.

What does stand out about Yoon’s remarks, however, is that they were delivered just two days after Justice Minister Choo laid out a strong proposal to separate the roles of investigation and indictment for a single case to different prosecutors within the agency as part of an effort to strengthen objectivity in criminal proceedings.

In a press conference - the first since Choo assumed office last month, the minister pledged to build a system of checks and balances within and without the state prosecution agency, first of all by ensuring roles are kept strictly separate within the agency.

“When a prosecutor lays out an indictment for a major case after directly investigating it, this could undermine its neutrality and objectivity,” Choo said. “Before seeking a revision to the law, we will first test out [the separation of prosecutorial roles] on the level of district prosecutors’ offices.”

Yoon’s speech on Thursday indisputably represents a response to Choo, making clear his opposition to her idea based on the belief that prosecutors must be allowed to handle both matters of investigation and indictment related to each particular case in order to ensure the continuity of criminal proceedings.

With regard to mistakes that could occur in such a process, Yoon said that the prosecution service already had an internal “command and monitoring system to correct wrongdoings.”

This latest quarrel between the two top law enforcement officers in the country speaks to the tension between the Moon administration and state prosecution service over attempts to reform and curb the latter’s extensive powers. Separately from Choo’s internal reform plans for the agency, a series of laws passed by the ruling Democratic Party in December and January has created a new anticorruption agency with the power to exclusively indict high-ranking officials and mandated the delegation of stronger investigation powers to the police in an effort to check the influence of prosecutors.

Choo plans to hold a general meeting between chief district prosecutors from across the country on Friday, in which the plan to separate prosecutorial roles is set to be discussed. Yoon will not be attending - perhaps to avoid publicly exposing their dispute - making it the first time in 17 years that a justice minister, and not a prosecutor general, presides over such a meeting.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, PARK TAE-IN [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]