Moon pins hopes on new justice minister’s role in prosecution reform

SEOUL-- President Moon Jae-in held out hope Thursday for the role of his new justice minister, Choo Mi-ae, conferring a letter of appointment on her and filling the post that had been vacant for more than two months.

"I hope you will spearhead prosecution reform works well," Moon told Choo during a Cheong Wa Dae ceremony.

He cited a law stipulating South Korea's justice minister as the "final supervisor" on state prosecutors' office work.

Moon, a former lawyer, called for "innovative" changes in the way prosecutors conduct probes, related practices and the internal culture of the organization.

He also stressed the importance of protecting human rights more strictly in the investigation process and the prosecution taking active self-reform measures.

"Although it's a very difficult task (to reform the prosecution), I think it will be hard (for us) to have the chance we have now again historically," the president said.

He was apparently referring to a strong call by many people here for reforming the prosecution, which they believe possesses excessive power and authority.

Choo, who was a judge and a five-term lawmaker, said she will do her best to seize the rare opportunity.

She said prosecutors should not misuse or abuse their power in ignorance of human rights. Rather, she added, they should gain public trust by stepping up efforts to find and punish specific crimes "with precision" like good surgeons.

"I think that's what the people desire and their order as the president said," she added.

The appointment of Choo came 80 days after Cho Kuk resigned amid prosecutors' probe into a scandal involving family investment and university admissions for his children. Cho was later indicted on multiple charges, including bribery.

On Dec. 5, 2019, Moon nominated the five-term lawmaker who led the ruling Democratic Party, as justice minister.

She went through the National Assembly's confirmation hearing last week. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) refused to adopt a formal hearing report.

Moon requested lawmakers to forward the report to him by New Year's Day. The parliament has not sent it to him.

The president can appoint a minister without the National Assembly's approval, while such a confirmation hearing is mandatory.

Her inauguration ceremony will held Friday, the ministry said.

The installation of Choo, known for her determination to get things done, is expected to add momentum to the liberal Moon administration's prosecution reform drive. He used lead the ruling Democratic Party from 2016-2018.

Keen attention is being paid to Choo's measures related to the replacement of senior prosecutors that may put herself against Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl.

At the end of 2019, the National Assembly passed a bill calling for the establishment of a special anti-corruption investigation unit.

Slated to be launched as early as in July, the agency will be tasked with looking into graft and other wrongdoings by high-ranking government officials, including prosecutors.

It will be given the rights to indict judges, prosecutors and senior police officers, breaking the local prosecution's longtime monopoly of the authority.

The parliament is expected to handle two other bills next week on granting police more investigative rights.

The conservative LKP claimed the ruling bloc is pushing for the legislation in a bid to weaken or avoid prosecutors' probe into corruption, especially by presidential aides.

It has also voiced worries about the pick of Choo, a political heavyweight, as justice minister less than half a year ahead of the April 15 general elections.

It is concerned that Choo may try to affect the prosecution service's probe into two major scandals involving some close aides to Moon.

Probes are under way into the allegations that Cheong Wa Dae meddled with last year's mayoral election in the southern city of Ulsan and that it blocked a 2017 internal inspection of Yoo Jae-soo, then director general at the Financial Services Commission, over suspicions of graft.

Her appointment drew mixed reactions from rival parties.

The ruling DP expressed hopes that she would put the final touches on prosecution reform.

"Minister Choo is the right person to spearhead urgent prosecution reform and stabilize the justice ministry and the prosecution organization," Youn Kwan-suk, deputy chief of the DP policy committee, said during a party meeting.

The party urged her to speedily push for follow-up measures on the planned investigative agency and a new division of investigative authority between prosecution and police.

The opposition LKP slammed Moon for pushing ahead with the controversial appointment without making additional efforts to secure parliamentary consent.

"This shows how anxious they are to neutralize and control Yoon Seok-youl's prosecution as early as possible and cover up crimes by those in power," floor leader Shim Jae-chul said during a meeting of the party leadership panel.

"President Moon's appointment of Choo is tantamount to a declaration of war that makes clear he will continue with his self-righteous and arrogant ways of managing state affairs this year," party spokesperson Lee Chang-soo said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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