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Tue Dec 29, 2020, 01:07 AM

Injunction blocks disciplinary action against South Korea's Prosecutor General

A South Korean court has created turmoil on the left by issuing a preliminary injunction against the disciplinary commmittee's judgement that Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol, violated his professional duties by improperly investigating judges and failing to the maintain political independence of his office. Other specifications charging his interference in cases where he, his family or subordinates had an interest, and therefore a professional conflict of interest were not addressed by the disciplinary committee. Yoon's petition for a injunction was grounded on a contention that he could not be suspended or removed from office by this disciplinary procedure because the Prosecutor General's office was intended to be independent of outside political interference as a constitutional matter. So it appears that the Prosecutor General's office is now some kind of "fourth branch" of government in Yoon's view. Before the injunction was issued many legal scholars regarded the petition for injunction as unlikely to succeed, particularly because Yoon was only temporarily suspended from office for a short period, two months, and was not barred from reassuming his position as Prosecutor General. Some democratic representatives in the National Assembly and Justice Party representatives are now calling for Yoon's impeachment. Justice Minister Chu Mi-ae, who initiated the disciplinary proceeding, nominally Yoon's superior, is also calling for his impeachment.

(Image Source- 열린공감TV) Chu Mi-ae Justice Minister of South Korea (left) and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol, her insubordinate subordinate.

Some of the ruling Democratic Party in the National Assembly (174 seats) are calling for the impeachment of Yoon Seok-yeol. Democratic Party leaders however are calling for adherence to the legislative plan to reform the criminal justice process and the offices of prosecutors and judges by implementing the Public Office Corruption Committee, and the separation of investigative and prosecution decisions in law enforcement. The fear is that judges would not confirm a bill of impeachment and that the democratic administration would end in a fiasco. The leaders also wish to stay focused on the worsening pandemic situation in South Korea.

Chu Mi-ae, the Justice Minister. tendered an offer to resign to President Moon Jae-in when the weak two month suspension decision against Yoon for professional misconduct came down from the disciplinary committee. Clearly, the administration was anticipating a stronger disposition such as dismissal from office. The disciplinary committee's determination suggests a compromise verdict acknowledging Yoon's professional misconduct but unwilling to take on the so called "cartel of special interests" dominating the prosecutorial and judicial branches. The committee left it to the courts to take on the so called "Yoon division," within prosecution offices, along with the media and chaebol interests on the right, supporting Yoon. Consequently, Yoon has returned to work and will continue his attack on the democratic administration by implementing new politically motivated investigations and prosecutions in the hope of toppling Moon Jae-in from power, and tarnishing any significant rival potentially running against Yoon during the next presidential election.



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