Justice minister rejects top prosecutor’s offer to form new team to probe case involving key aide

July 8, 2020

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae on Wednesday rejected the chief prosecutor’s offer to create an “independent” investigative team to handle an alleged blackmail case at the center of friction between the two.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office made the recommendation to the justice ministry earlier in the day, six days after the minister issued a rare directive ordering Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl to take his hands off the sensitive case involving one of Yoon’s key aides and a now fired TV reporter.

The prosecution office announced that the new team will be formed at the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office to take over the case currently under probe at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

This composite photo shows Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (L) and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. (Yonhap)

This composite photo shows Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (L) and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. (Yonhap)

Yoon made the decision “respecting the justice minister’s directive and considering opinions in and outside the prosecution,” the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said in a statement.

The new team will also include prosecutors currently in charge of the case and will report to the chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office. Yoon will guarantee its independence and will receive reports of the investigation results later, it said.

In less than two hours of the announcement, the minister rejected the recommendation.

“The prosecutor-general’s recommendation cannot be seen as carrying out the minister’s instruction since it effectively calls for replacement and change of the team on the case,” the justice ministry said.

In April, the district prosecutors’ office began the probe into a cable TV reporter suspected of using his close ties with ranking prosecutor Han Dong-hoon, a close associate of Yoon, to pressure a jailed financier to divulge allegedly corrupt acts by a pro-government commentator.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office decided on June 19 to convene an advisory panel to review the case, a move critics regarded as a deliberate scheme to deter the ongoing probe.

Last Thursday, Minister Choo ordered the chief prosecutor to withdraw the plan and guarantee independence to a probe team in charge of the case.

Yoon held a series of meetings with senior prosecutors Friday to discuss how to respond to Choo’s order. During the meetings, a majority of senior prosecutors were said to voice opposition to the directive.

Earlier Wednesday, Choo sent an ultimatum for Yoon to answer by early Thursday.