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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 5)

08:56 May 05, 2021

Qualification questioned
: Prosecution's neutrality should not be breached

President Moon Jae-in cannot deflect criticism for tapping a pro-government figure as the new prosecutor general. On Monday, he nominated former Vice Justice Minister Kim Oh-soo to the top post at the prosecution. Moon appeared to put loyalty over qualification and competence in choosing Kim over three other candidates shortlisted by a recommendation committee.

Addressing the nomination, the presidential office said Kim has ample experience with the prosecution and the justice ministry, taking the lead in protecting human rights and pushing for prosecutorial reform. Kim, a veteran prosecutor, served as chief of the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors' Office and the Institute of Justice, before being made vice justice minister in June 2018.

However, critics call into question his qualification to lead the law enforcement agency. When former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family faced allegations of corruption and admissions fraud in 2019, Kim proposed that a special team of prosecutors be formed to investigate the case that would not be under the direct supervision of then Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. His proposal was nothing but a government ploy to exclude Yoon from the investigation of Cho. It made Kim invite the wrath of not only Yoon, but also reform-minded prosecutors who were adamant about waging a war on corruption.

Another problem is that Kim is under investigation for his alleged involvement in illegally imposing a travel ban on former Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui, who had allegedly received sexual favors from a businessman. No one can rule out the possibility that he might be indicted for the illegal act. In other words, the country might have a criminal suspect as chief prosecutor. No one wants to see such a thing, which could seriously damage the credibility of law enforcement, take place.

Kim will soon face a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly. And he is in for a tough battle with the opposition lawmakers who claim he is unqualified to take the helm of the prosecution. The main opposition People Power Party has criticized Moon for picking Kim, calling it an attempt to tame the prosecution and protect corrupt officials and politicians in the ruling bloc. This criticism has a point because the government tried excessively hard to force then Prosecutor General Yoon out because he targeted Moon's confidants for their alleged bribe-taking, influence-peddling and election-rigging.

If Moon presses ahead with the appointment, he may face a strong backlash not only from the opposition parties, but also from the public. Many people remain fed up with the Moon government's conflict with Yoon who resigned in March to protest its reckless push for prosecutorial reform, which is apparently aimed at controlling the law enforcement agency.

Kim, if appointed, could avoid any conflict with the government because he is apparently loyal to Moon. He is also expected to put the finishing touches on prosecutorial reforms according to Moon's wishes. But he could risk undermining the prosecution's independence and political neutrality, which hold the key to upholding the rule of law. That's why the prosecutor general should be selected based on qualification and competence rather than loyalty.

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