Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl (pool photo)
Depending on their veracity, allegations that former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl ordered a senior official in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO) to prepare criminal complaints against figures in the ruling party are likely to have serious judicial and political ramifications.
“If the allegations are true, they would constitute a manifest violation of the Personal Information Protection Act and the grave crime of overstepping the prosecutors’ judicial authority,” said a source close to the prosecutors.
A news website called Newsverse reported on Thursday that Son Jun-seong, who was then chief of investigative information policy at the SPO, gave a criminal complaint on April 3, 2020, to Kim Woong, who was running for a seat in the National Assembly with the United Future Party (UFP) in the general election on April 15. Kim is currently a lawmaker with the People Power Party, formerly known as the UFP.
The criminal complaints contained allegations about reporters in the press and figures affiliated with the ruling party, including Rhyu Si-min, chairman of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, and Choi Kang-wook, head of the Open Democratic Party.
Son is also accused of giving Kim the text of a judicial decision listing the full name and crimes of an individual surnamed Ji, who tipped MBC off about alleged collusion between the prosecutors and the press. Son may have handed over the decision in order to emphasize that those allegations — which implicated senior prosecutor Han Dong-hoon, a close associate of Yoon Seok-youl — had been provided by a criminal who was not to be trusted.
Judicial decisions containing full names and other personal information can only be printed out by prosecutors, judges, and other people working directly on a case. If Son handed over the ruling, he could have acquired it while working on an investigation.
Legal sources say that distributing a judicial decision containing real names for purposes unrelated to an investigation or trial constitutes a violation of the Personal Information Protection Act.
A senior prosecutor in the Seoul area said that, if a judicial decision had been used in this way, it would be “clear grounds for a criminal prosecution.”
As chief of investigative information policy, Son was responsible for collecting and analyzing criminal information and reporting directly to the prosecutor general, suggesting just how impactful these allegations could turn out to be.
The chief of investigative information policy, a position that used to be called the chief of criminal information strategy, is an aide who serves as the prosecutor general’s “eyes and ears.” Son was reportedly known as Yoon’s “right-hand man.”
When former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae replaced a large number of Yoon loyalists last year, Son was one of Yoon’s few allies who remained in the SPO. He also came under scrutiny last year after he was identified as the author of a document about judges’ ideological leanings.
Another major variable is Son’s relationship with Kim. The two were in the same class at the Judicial Research and Training Institute; they’re also alumni of the same university.
Son maintains that the allegations are completely baseless. He told the Hankyoreh on Thursday that the Newsverse article is “ridiculous” and added, “I don’t know anything about it, so I have nothing to explain.”
But if the allegations turn out to be true, Yoon will surely face questions about his responsibility. It’s highly doubtful that Son would have worked on something so closely related to Yoon on his own initiative.
“If Yoon was involved in encouraging [the opposition party] to file a criminal complaint or if he was aware of what was happening, he can’t avoid criticism for having exploited the power of the prosecution for his own personal advantage,” a senior member of the prosecution service said.
“In my career as a prosecutor, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of prosecutors asking politicians to file criminal complaints or handing over information related to an investigation. That sort of thing should never happen,” a senior prosecutor said.
The SPO immediately launched a probe into the allegations.
“Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo instructed the [SPO’s] internal auditors to investigate the claims made in the Newsverse article,” an SPO spokesperson said on Thursday.
Justice Minister Park Beom-kye also brought up the issue in a meeting with reporters on Thursday.
“I’ve spoken with the Justice Ministry’s audit division to look into the veracity of these allegations. I think the prosecutor general was appropriate to order an investigation,” Park said.
By Ock Kee-won, staff reporter
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