In South Korea, there are endless film and television dramas around prosecutors. The struggle for judicial inspection and the power struggle between prosecutors and police have always been hot topics that have been tried and tested. In reality, a series of recent disturbances in South Korean politics are more dramatic than on-screen dramas.
According to Yonhap News Agency, on December 10, the South Korean Prosecutor’s and Correctional Committee held a meeting to consider whether to punish South Korea’s Attorney General Yoon Seok-yue. Yonhap commented that this move was “only seen in South Korea’s constitutional history”. However, the deliberations on the same day were not concluded and are still pending at the follow-up meeting.
Just two weeks ago, South Korea’s Minister of Justice Qiu Mei-a asked Yoon Seok-yue to suspend his post, which triggered a collective protest by prosecutors across the country. After Yoon Seok-yue filed an administrative lawsuit, his suspension order was revoked.
This round of “Autumn Yin’s move” uncovered the tip of the iceberg in the South Korean legal inspection dispute, which triggered a “political earthquake”. The political chaos worries the nation, and I apologize as president. South Korean President Moon Jae-in publicly apologized to the people on December 7, hoping that the chaos would be temporary and “became the last pain on the road to reform”.
At the beginning of Moon Jae-in’s rule, he aspired to “move a knife” against the procuratorial system, which led to the intensification of confrontation between the Ministry of Justice and the prosecutorial system. The fire has continued to this day, and judicial reform has stood at a crossroads.
“The internal struggle, corruption and factional integration in South Korea’s political are very serious, beyond our imagination of the democratic country.” Zhang Huizhi, a professor at the Northeast Asia Research Institute of Jilin University, told The Paper (www.thepaper.cn) that if Moon continues to promote judicial reform, it will exacerbate the division of political parties; if it is suspended, he will be criticized for a start-ending end. Moreover, the reform inevitably touches the core of interest groups and will encounter greater resistance. He now apologizes to the whole people, which also shows that he wants to save public opinion.
Moon Jae-in was in a dilemma when two cadres and generals fought.
At the end of November, the road near the building of the Ministry of Justice of Korea was full of wreaths, with slogans such as “Democracy is dead” and “Ministry of Justice is dead”. At the same time, there were also sad music broadcast, just like the funeral scene. According to The Economist on November 28, South Korean right-wing groups protested against Qiu Mei’ai’s suspension order on Yoon Seok-yue.
According to Yonhap, Qiu Mei-ai held an emergency press conference at the Seoul High Prosecutor’s Office on November 24 and ordered Yin Xiyue to suspend her duties for inspection. This is the first time in the constitutional history of South Korea that the Minister of Justice has asked the Attorney General to suspend his duties. Qiu Meiai said that Yin Xiyue was suspected of having an improper meeting with Hong Xixuan, the president of the Central Daily, who was involved in the case at that time in Seoul in November 2018, in violation of the procuratorial ethics program. Yin Xiyue was also accused of illegally serving judges, obstructing supervision and investigation, and violating the principle of political neutrality. Qiu Meiai said that she would also thoroughly investigate the truth of other fraud cases.
A few hours after Qiu Meiai issued the order, Yin Xiyue expressed strong dissatisfaction and applied to the court to stop the suspension order. He said: “As the Attorney General, I have always done my duty and have a clear conscience. The improper punishment of the law will be investigated to the end by legal means.
One stone stirred up a thousand waves, and the suspension triggered collective protests from prosecutors at all levels across South Korea. According to South Korea’s “Korea Daily” on December 1, prosecutors from 59 front-line procuratorial offices in South Korea issued a statement saying that “the request for suspension and discipline of the Attorney General is illegal and improper”.
The Seoul Administrative Court suspended the “discontinence order” on December 1. Just 40 minutes after the court’s judgment was issued, Yoon Xiyue arrived at the prosecutor’s office by bus. After returning to work, he told the media: “As a South Korean public official, I will do my best to maintain the spirit of the Constitution and rule of law.” For a while, the smoke was filled between the South Korean forensic inspections.
The trigger of this round of “Ao-Yin dispute” dates back to January this year. As a senior female general of the ruling party of South Korea, Qiu Meiai replaced Cao Guo, who resigned due to the children’s admission scandal, as Minister of Justice. At the beginning of her term, she responded to Moon Jae-in’s instructions and set off a whirlwind of judicial reform. Within a week, 32 officials at the level of the level of attorney general were transferred, most of whom were demoted and Yin Xiyue’s staff team was “greatly changed”.
Yin Xiyue lost his confidant without knowing it and was also asked to accept Qiu Meiai’s face-to-face questioning, which was an unprecedented impact on the ever-ranking attorney general. Immediately afterwards, in March this year, Yin Xiyue’s mother-in-law was prosecuted by the Gyeonggi Provincial Government Prosecutor’s Office for forging private documents.
Yin Xiyue fought back strongly in September. Prosecutors asked for an investigation into the illegal leave of Qiu Meiai’s son Xu during his military service. South Korea’s main opposition party, the National Power (formerly the United Party for the Future), took the opportunity to criticize Qiu Mei for her shortness. In the face of increasing negative waves, Qiu Meiai insisted that she was innocent, but she was forced to apologize to the people because of the huge controversy.
It is worth mentioning that Qiu Meiai’s experience is the same as the experience of Cao Guo, the former Minister of Justice and Moon Jae-in’s able general, who was investigated: Cao Guo was also investigated by the procuratorial system forging certificates to enter a famous school, and was forced to resign at the end of last year.
Qiu Meiai, who was attacked, was not soft. In October, she used the command of investigation to investigate the fraud case involving Yin Xiyue’s family and LIME asset management company’s private equity funds, and instructed the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office and the Seoul Southern District Prosecutor’s Office to no longer accept Yin Xiyue’s command. In response, Yin Xiyue flatly refused and “fired up” in the congressional questioning session, accusing Qiu Mei-ai of his intention to force him to resign.
The “Autumn Yin Dispute” continues to escalate. In the current chaos, on the one hand, Qiu Meiai, who wholeheartedly assists and promotes judicial reform, and on the other hand, Yin Xiyue, a great contributor to the political liquidation of former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, Moon Jae-in is in a dilemma. Yonhap News Agency said that South Korea’s state premier Ding Se-kyun had suggested to the President to replace the two chiefs of the procuratorial procuratorial affairs at the same time, but Moon Jae-in’s position is not clear.
The Japan Times commented that the disturbance reflected another major setback for the South Korean government in its struggle with the procuratorial system.
The wind of judicial reform
South Korea implements the separation of powers, and the executive, legislative and judicial powers operate independently but supervise each other. The prosecutor’s office is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice of the administrative organ (government), but it is a relatively independent system. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the jurisdiction and administrative region of each procuratorate. The prosecution has the power to search, the power to prosecute, the power to request a search warrant, etc. Even the Minister of Justice cannot interfere in the handling of the prosecutor’s case. This also means that in handling cases, the prosecutor is the supreme officer.
The Korean Herald noted that, in essence, prosecutors have a monopoly on the process of bringing criminals to justice.” If prosecutors break the law, who can bind them?” This is a long-lasting question in the hearts of the South Korean people. South Korean prosecutors have also been criticized for “excessive power”.
Moon Jae-in, a lawyer, put forward a judicial reform plan during the election campaign. After taking office in 2017, he explicitly listed this as the top governance task and vigorously promoted the “power reform” of the procuratorial organ.
Last September, Moon Jae-in stood up with public criticism and appointed Cao Guo, who was plagued by scandal, as the Minister of Justice. Cao Guo is regarded as a representative of the reform faction of the judicial system. Less than a month after taking office, he announced the “quick-pushed project” of procuratorial reform, including reducing the direct investigation department of the procuratorial office, expanding the criminal and public judgment department of the procuratorial office, and minimizing the number of the three major reform measures. However, the paper could not be wrapped in fire. Cao Guo was caught up with a series of scandals because his daughter was suspected of illegally attending a famous school. He resigned after only 35 days in office.
In January this year, Moon Jae-in appointed Qiu Mei-ai as the Minister of Justice. Qiu Mei’ai, 61 years old, is a judge. She has assisted former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. In 2017, she also helped Moon Jae-in to carry out political liquidation of Park Geun-hye. According to Yonhap analysis, Qiu Meiai’s method is tough and dares to break the existing political situation, and the procuratorial reform process is expected to accelerate.
After Qiu Mei fell in love with her office, the plenary session of the Korean National Assembly voted to pass the Amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law and the Amendment to the Prosecutor’s Office Law in the absence of the Liberal Korea Party, the largest opposition party at that time, on January 13. Under the new law, the prosecutor’s command over police investigation activities will be abolished in the future. This is the first time since the first criminal procedure law was enacted in South Korea in 1954, the relationship between the two has changed from superiors and subordinates to collaboration.
In just a few months, Qiu Meiai greatly adjusted the personnel of the procuratorate, issued a reform plan, and proposed to cancel the Attorney General’s investigation and command of specific cases; and suggested that the Law on the Prosecutor’s Office be amended to change the relevant law that “the Minister of Justice shall listen to the opinions of the Attorney General when appoints a prosecutor”.
Under the drastic reform of the Minister of Justice, the power of the prosecution has been weakened, but unexpectedly, the popularity of Attorney General Yin Xiyue has been rising this year. According to the Korean National Daily, a poll released on November 11 showed that the independent Yoon Seok-yue ranked first in the support rate of the next presidential candidate, ahead of the popular candidates of the ruling party and the opposition party. However, many people in the political circle think that Yoon Seo-yue’s support rate only depends on the “anti-Moon Jae-in government” emotions of some people.
Establish a public information office: for self-protection or justice?
In fact, the most important step in a series of judicial reform measures in South Korea in recent years is the Act on the Establishment of a High-level Crime Investigation Service for Public Officials passed by the National Assembly on December 31 last year. According to the bill, a “High-level Public Officer Crime Investigation Office” (Public Investigation Office) will
established, an anti-corruption department independent of the prosecution, which will investigate senior public officials such as the President, members of Parliament, the President of the Supreme Court (i.e. the Supreme Court of South Korea) and the Chancellor. However, the President and Blue House cannot interfere in their work.
This bill systematically breaks the situation of the prosecution’s monopoly on prosecution power, and also weakens the prosecution’s so-called “privileges” to a certain extent. Previously, the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye cases were investigated and prosecuted by the prosecution.
This reform has also attracted fierce opposition. Last year, the South Korean Prosecutor’s Office publicly opposed this provision on the grounds that it was unreasonable. Huang Jiao’an, the leader of the Liberal Korea Party, went on hunger strike in front of the plenary hall of the National Assembly on several occasions. He believed that the President had the power to appoint the Director of the Investigation Department, which was equivalent to having control over the judicial and prosecutorial departments.
According to the Seoul Transportation Radio (TBS), critics worry that the Public Investigation Office may become a “secret investigation team” of Moon Jae-in’s government to help those in power escape legal punishment.
Zhang Huizhi told The Paper that Moon Jae-in’s main motivation for promoting the establishment of the Public Media Department should not be to “self-protection”. Although it is almost the practice for South Korea’s president to be liquidated by prosecutors after leaving office, Moon Jae-in is a relatively clean president. He may promote judicial reform more from the perspective of judicial justice. Zhang Huizhi said, “However, judicial reform has intensified the struggle between the party and government, and the ruling party, the common democratic party, has divided itself, and the support rate has fallen. The attitude of the South Korean people to the party and government struggle is very emotional. Moon Jae-in will be in trouble if he “gos alone”.
However, Moon Jae-in seems to have firmly “change to the end” and recently pushed forward the amendment to the Senior Public Officer Crime Investigation Service Act, which was passed by Congress on December 10. According to Yonhap News Agency on the 10th, the amendment adjusted the voting mechanism of the recommendation committee for candidates for director of the Public Resonment. Even if two members of the recommendation committee on the opposition party exercise the right to refuse, they can exercise the right of recommendation as long as the other five members agree.
The Central Daily reported on the 11th that the amendment actually emptyed the veto power of the opposition party, and the first candidate for the director of the public investigation department is likely to be elected in full accordance with the wishes of the ruling party. “This is clearly a law that prevents Moon from being punished,” said Wu Se-hoon, a former mayor of Seoul and from the National Forces party.
Kang Minshuo, spokesman of Qingwatai, said at a regular press conference on December 11 that Moon Jae-in said that through the investigation of the conduct of no “prohibited zone”, the power organs will contain each other and maintain balance. It is the common wish of the society and an agreement with the people to build a “zero corruption” government. I hope that the procedure will proceed smoothly. It is planned to formally establish the Public Recondation Office in 2021.