Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl speaks during a campaign event in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, on Monday. (provided by Yoon Seok-youl)
The South Korean prosecution service has been accused of encouraging members of the United Future Party (UFP, now known as the People Power Party, or PPP) to file criminal complaints against members of the ruling Democratic Party and of the press shortly before the parliamentary elections last year.
This was apparently an attempt to counter allegations raised about then Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and his family members and about collusion between the prosecution service and the press.
Yoon is considered one of the leading candidates for the opposition in next year’s presidential election.
The Democratic Party has condemned this as a “political operation” by Yoon and has called for a parliamentary probe and an investigation by Korea’s Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials.
According to a story on Newsverse, a news website, and additional reporting by the Hankyoreh, PPP lawmaker Kim Woong, who was then running for a seat in the National Assembly on the UFP ticket, gave the UFP a criminal complaint against 11 figures on April 3. Those figures included members of the press and Rhyu Si-min, chairman of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, Choi Kang-wook, and Hwang Hee-seok. Choi and Hwang were both proportional candidates for the Open Democratic Party, which is separate from but has an affinity with, the Democratic Party.
Newsverse said that the criminal complaint was given to Kim Woong by Son Jun-seong, who was then chief of investigative information policy at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. Son is one of Yoon’s closest associates.
The criminal complaint listed violations of the Public Official Election Act and of the Information and Communication Act. The claim was that Rhyu, Choi, and Hwang had taken part in MBC’s reporting on collusion between the prosecutors and the press with the purpose of influencing the upcoming elections.
MBC’s reporting on the collusion scandal claimed that, in March 2020, Lee Dong-jae, a reporter at Channel A, bragged about his friendship with a senior prosecutor named Han Dong-hoon in an attempt to force Lee Cheol, former CEO at Value Invest Korea, to provide dirt on Rhyu.
The criminal complaint also covered reporters at MBC and staff at Newstapa, a news website, who reported allegations that Kim Keon-hee — wife of Yoon Seok-youl — was involved in manipulating the value of Deutsch Motors stock. The documents listed Yoon — who was still prosecutor general at the time, his wife Kim, and Han Dong-hoon as the alleged victims of defamation.
Then on April 8, Son Jun-seong reportedly delivered another criminal complaint to the UFP via Kim Woong, this time claiming that Choi Kang-wook had violated the Public Official Election Law by spreading false information. Both of the criminal complaints left the name of the complainant blank, so that a name could be added later as needed.
Along with the criminal complaints, Son reportedly attached the verdict of an old court case against an individual surnamed Ji who’d given MBC a tip about the collusion between the prosecutors and the press.
The Personal Information Protection Act forbids providing third parties with court rulings that list the name of an individual convicted of a crime without their consent.
The chief of investigative information policy at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office is responsible not only for collecting and analyzing information about investigations but also tracking trends in various areas. The person in this position is a close associate of the prosecutor general and reports directly on their responsibilities.
That has prompted suspicions that Yoon gave instructions for the criminal complaints to be drafted and submitted to the opposition party.
The ruling Democratic Party is calling for a thorough investigation into what it regards as the prosecution service’s attempt to sway last year’s parliamentary elections.
“If the prosecutors under Yoon Seok-youl orchestrated the filing of criminal complaints against politicians and journalists, that would be a political operation. Was Yoon briefed by Son Jun-seong about the criminal complaints? We call upon Yoon to provide a clear explanation,” Kim Jin-wook, spokesperson for the Democratic Party, said in a statement on Thursday.
Yoon’s campaign denied the allegations. “Let us be clear: Yoon didn’t arrange for criminal complaints to be filed against anyone during his time as prosecutor general.”
Son also denied the allegations in a conversation with the Hankyoreh.
“The report isn’t true, and I don’t know anything about it, so I have nothing to explain. There’s no truth to the claim that criminal complaints were conveyed.”
“I have absolutely no recollection of anything of that sort occurring,” said Chung Jeom-sik, who was head of the UFP’s legal support team at the time.
Kim Woong, who was identified as the link between the prosecution service and the opposition party, released a position statement of his own.
“We had a lot of tips coming into my office, and I naturally passed along the material we received to the party’s legal support team. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with delivering tips to the party,” Kim said.
On Thursday, Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo instructed the relevant department to look into the allegations and also carry out a thorough audit.
By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter
Please direct comments or questions to [firstname.lastname@example.org]