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Top prosecutor stands back from case involving his aide

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol (Yonhap)
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol (Yonhap)

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol accepted Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s directive Thursday to back down from an investigation in a case involving a senior prosecutor believed to be close to him.

With the decision, tensions between Choo and Yoon appear to have eased over who should oversee the ongoing inquiry into allegations that prosecutor Han Dong-hoon colluded with a former Channel A journalist in an attempt to frame a leading liberal figure for corruption.

“The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office will continue to investigate the Channel A case autonomously,” the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said on Thursday morning, about two hours before a deadline set by the minister to respond to her directive made on July 1.

The prosecutor general’s investigative command on the case has been removed by the order from the minister, it said.

Since April, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has been carrying out the probe into prosecutor Han, but Yoon directed the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office to look into the case and review the validity of the investigation. Han, before the launch of the enquiry, held a key post at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.

Choo, moving to thwarted Yoon’s order, exercised her legal right as minister to intervene in the case, saying it would hurt the fairness of the probe due to Yoon’s close ties with Han.

“The prosecutor general’s decision to avoid commanding the case himself to enable the investigating team to look into it independently is in line with the people’s wish for a fair investigation,” Choo said in a statement.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office will have leeway to instigate legal proceedings such as issuing summons and requesting arrest warrants, without having other offices standing on its way.

On Wednesday, Yoon proposed to form an independent investigative team for the alleged collusion case with the head of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office taking charges as an alternative but Choo immediately rejected the plan.

Escalation of the conflict between the two has led to political strife in which lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party asserted that Yoon should step down for disobeying Choo, while opposition parties planned to introduce an impeachment bill against Choo for abusing her power to oppress Yoon.

By Park Han-na (