(ATTN: UPDATES with more background information, more details from the 4th paragraph; ADDS photo, byline)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Dec. 2 (Yonhap) – President Moon Jae-in has tapped a judge as the new vice attorney general, Cheong Wa Dae announced on Wednesday amid simmering controversy over the ministry’s move to punish South Korean prosecutors for alleged ethical errors and other misdeeds.
The appointment of Lee Yong-gu, who served as a judge for more than 20 years, came just a day after Vice Attorney General Koh Kee-young made apparent protests against Justice Secretary Choo Mi-ae’s urge to take disciplinary action against the prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl had submitted his resignation.
Koh is a key member of the department’s disciplinary committee due to meet with high public attention on Friday to discuss the matter.
Lee is due to take over the post Thursday which would allow him to attend the upcoming session of the panel.
Lee served as Assistant Attorney General for Legal Affairs for two years and eight months as of August 2017. He was the first person without a prosecution background to be appointed to the position. Lee then opened his own law firm.
Cheong Wa Dae cited not only his legal expertise but also his deep understanding of the affairs of the ministry.
He is expected to “help resolve upcoming issues, including prosecutor reform, in a fair and neutral manner and stabilize the organization,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok said in a statement.
At the end of November, the Justice Minister announced the decision to suspend the prosecutor from his duties and apply for a punishment. Her ministry has confirmed “several allegations of serious misconduct” by Yoon. According to Choo, a judge and politician, these include “illegal” inspections of judges by prosecutors working under Yoon’s leadership on politically sensitive cases.
The year-long rift between Choo and Yoon is seen by many to be linked to the reform of the lunar government led by the hardline minister.
On Tuesday, the Seoul Administrative Court approved a preliminary injunction against the suspension of Yoon’s work, effectively allowing him to return to work.
The court said his dismissal from service was tantamount to being fired because he had a two-year term. The suspension also goes against the purpose of the relevant law protecting the independence and political neutrality of the prosecutor, the court added.