South Korean President’s Office Denies He’s Targeting Prosecutor

Kanga Kong

(Bloomberg) -- An official in South Korean leader Moon Jae-in’s office denied a report that they are pursuing punishment of his top prosecutor Yoon Seok-youl, who is leading an investigation into former and current government figures.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters Moon’s office had never discussed any potential discipline of Yoon, rejecting a report that a process has been initiated that could eventually justify the prosecutor’s ouster. The article also didn’t say on what grounds the Blue House had launched the punishment process, the official said.

TV outlet Channel A said Moon’s office is seeking to punish Yoon for disobedience, citing an unidentified government official. The official said Yoon should be held accountable for his wrongdoing, and that Moon’s government is reviewing which law clauses to be applied to his case, according to Channel A.

Yoon, a Moon appointee, is leading probes related to indicted former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. Yonhap News Agency reported Yoon’s office sent prosecutors to a presidential committee overseeing national development Thursday afternoon to search for evidence relating to alleged election interference.

Friction between Moon’s office and Yoon intensified after the Justice Ministry reassigned key prosecutors and Yoon lieutenants investigating scandals involving the president’s aides, just three months before a parliamentary election. The shakeup came days after Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae took office, pledging to carry out Moon’s reforms and re-balance the “almighty” prosecutors’ power.

The reassignments were included in 32 appointments announced by the Ministry of Justice Wednesday. Three prosecutors recently named to senior posts under Yoon were on the list.

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Choo blamed Yoon for forcing her hand by not submitting a reorganization plan for his department that she said she requested. He “disobeyed my order to make reassignment proposals,” Choo said at a parliamentary session Thursday.

An image of Choo’s text messages captured by a local press camera late Thursday showed that she was asking her ministry to look up punishment law clauses because she wants to exercise her authority as the supervisor. She didn’t identify who she wants to punish.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon told Choo that it’s “regrettable Yoon declined the justice minister’s request to propose opinions” for the appointments. The minister should “make a right judgment call and come up with a needed step,” Lee’s office said in a statement Thursday.

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Earlier this month, Moon’s office criticized the decision by Seoul prosecutors to indict Cho on a dozen charges including bribery, saying the move raised doubts about the probe’s intentions. Cho was a close aide to Moon before his appointment and his resignation in October after just five weeks as minister set back the president’s push to overhaul the prosecution system.

Moon saw his support rate fall to an all-time low in the wake of the Cho scandal. His ruling Democratic Party faces parliamentary elections in April and any setback would weaken Moon’s hand as he serves out the final two years of his single, five-year term.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kanga Kong in Seoul at kkong50@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Shamim Adam at sadam2@bloomberg.net, Jihye Lee

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