The Korea Herald


Democratic Party of Korea’s beef with prosecutors, explained

By Kim Arin

Published : Feb. 26, 2024 - 18:44

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Cho Kuk, who was the last Democratic Party of Korea President Moon Jae-in’s justice minister, formed a new third party with the goal of reforming the country’s prosecution service. (Yonhap) Cho Kuk, who was the last Democratic Party of Korea President Moon Jae-in’s justice minister, formed a new third party with the goal of reforming the country’s prosecution service. (Yonhap)

With the April general election just around the corner, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea is again campaigning on “abolishing the political prosecution” -- a slogan that the liberal party has been using for every election for at least the past three administrations.

Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the Democratic Party chair who was narrowly defeated by then-rival Yoon Suk Yeol in the 2022 presidential election, says he is a victim of “political prosecutors."

Having been indicted on corruption and breach of trust charges, Lee has criticized the wave of law enforcement scrutiny against him, arguing the prosecution has been “politically motivated and under pressure” under the Yoon administration.

On the multiple criminal investigations of its leader, the Democratic Party said it had to do with “having a former prosecutor general as president,” although most of the investigations began long before Yoon was a presidential candidate.

Reforming the “political and corrupt” prosecution service is one of the Democratic Party’s main narratives, being recycled once again for the general election campaign.

The Democratic Party is trying to get former senior prosecutors to prop up its prosecution reform agenda, saying they would be given priority consideration as candidates for the upcoming election.

Rep. Kim Min-seok, who is steering the Democratic Party’s situation room, told reporters Sunday that the people are “fed up with” prosecutors driving the Seoul political scene, referring to Yoon and the ruling People Power Party chair, who is another former career prosecutor, Han Dong-hoon.

But not long ago, many liberals saw Yoon and Han as heroes. The two former star prosecutors were credited for leading the investigations that led to the jailing of former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak.

That changed when Seoul prosecutors helmed by then-Prosecutor general Yoon launched an investigation into Cho Kuk, a close aide of the last Democratic Party President Moon Jae-in. It didn’t take long for the Democratic Party, which had once hailed Yoon as a beacon of justice for investigating the rival party’s presidents, to turn on him.

When Yoon as a top prosecutor was accused by lawmakers of the Democratic Party of waging an unfair investigation of Cho, he said it was his job not to leave allegations unaddressed. He said that he was “nobody’s man,” which was taken to mean he wasn't working for any party’s interests.

The Moon administration and the Democratic Party’s attacks on Yoon led to him resigning as prosecutor general. The conservative party said at the time the efforts to block the prosecution’s investigation of the Moon aide constituted obstruction of justice.

Ironically, the highly publicized confrontation with the presidential office and the then-ruling party is what pushed Yoon to stardom.

Most of the allegations raised against Cho and his family, decried at the time as having been manipulated, turned out to be true. The Moon aide was handed a two-year jail sentence earlier this month in his second trial. The highest court sentenced his wife to four years in jail.

Cho and Song Young-gil, who ran for Seoul mayor in 2022, are two former Democratic Party bigwigs to form new third parties with the goal of reforming the country’s prosecution.