The main opposition party criticized Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae for barring the prosecutor general from commanding an investigation into a sprawling financial fraud scandal allegedly involving politicians and incumbent prosecutors.
Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the main opposition People Power Party, urged President Moon Jae-in to replace the justice minister, reiterating his call for an independent counsel to look into the cases involving two private equity firms, Lime Asset Management and Optimus Asset Management.
Choo directed the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office and the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday not to take orders from Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl on the Lime case, but merely to report the results of the investigation to him.
“No one would believe or accept the conclusion of the case made by pro-government, pro-Choo prosecutors,” Joo said during a meeting with party officials at the National Assembly on Tuesday. “President Moon should not neglect Choo. She should be immediately replaced.”
This is the second time Choo has intervened to restrict Yoon’s authority to oversee certain cases, reflecting her mistrust toward the prosecutor general.
The justice minister has the authority under the Prosecutors’ Office Act to direct or suspend specific investigations undertaken by prosecutors, but such orders have been issued only three times in the country’s history and only by two justice ministers, including Choo. This is because most justice ministers tend to avoid causing friction between the two judicial organizations.
Before giving the order, the ministry expressed its dissatisfaction with the progress that Yoon had made in the investigation.
“We confirmed that the investigation was not properly conducted despite the fact that Kim testified allegations of an opposition party politician and prosecutors are engaged in this case along with allegations involving politicians from the liberal bloc,” the ministry said Sunday.
The financial scandal, which centers on Lime and Optimus as well as their investors, who have lost some 2.1 trillion won ($1.84 billion), has ensnared political bigwigs from both the ruling and opposition parties, as well as presidential aides and state prosecutors, who are suspected of having taken bribes from the two companies.
A statement written by Kim Bong-hyun, former chairman of Star Mobility, who is believed to be the main financial backer of Lime, was a trigger for Choo’s decision to water down Yoon’s authority.
The key suspect said that a prosecutor-turned-lawyer advised him to frame Kang Gi-jung, former senior secretary to President Moon, for taking bribes to empower the prosecutor general, who has been at odds with the Moon administration.
The opposition party’s special committee on the two financial fraud scandals questioned the reliability of Kim’s statement, calling it a “unilateral disclosure by a swindler and full of fiction.”
“Just relying on a letter, the minister is asserting that the investigation about prosecutors and the opposition party is not making progress because of Yoon,” the committee’s leader, Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, told reporters.