[Editorial] Another government post, another prosecutor: Who runs S. Korea?

Posted on : 2022-06-08 16:54 KST Modified on : 2022-06-08 16:54 KST
Yoon appointed yet another former prosecutor to lead a financial services watchdog
Lee Bok-hyeon, a former prosecutor, was instated as the new governor of Korea’s Financial Supervisory Service on June 7. (Yonhap News)
Lee Bok-hyeon, a former prosecutor, was instated as the new governor of Korea’s Financial Supervisory Service on June 7. (Yonhap News)

There’s no end to former prosecutors’ domination of key posts in the administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.

The figure selected on Tuesday to serve as the first director of the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) under Yoon is Lee Bok-hyeon, who resigned from a senior position at the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office in April to protest the Democratic Party’s passage of a bill separating prosecutors’ powers of investigation and indictment.

This is the first time the FSS has been led by a former prosecutor since its establishment in 1999.

Yoon had already named Kang Soo-jin, a former prosecutor who now serves as a professor at the Korea University School of Law, to head the Fair Trade Commission. Tuesday’s appointment means that former prosecutors are now in charge of Korea’s financial and business watchdogs.

True, Lee did pass the test to be a certified public accountant, and he has taken part in many investigations into white-collar crimes. But even with that experience, his understanding of the finance industry is too shallow to make him an expert in financial oversight.

That’s just a fig leaf aimed at justifying the decision to give another plum post to a Yoon’s clique — dubbed the “Yoon Division” — of which Lee is regarded as a junior member.

The finance industry’s role in the real economy is often compared to that of the body’s circulatory system in maintaining flows. The purpose of financial oversight is to keep the financial system stable by ensuring that finance companies maintain financial soundness and obey statutes and regulations put in place to protect consumers.

As a result, showing the way, setting standards, verifying that things are going properly, and providing leadership and guidance in advance are much more important than trying to deal with problems after they’ve occurred.

That’s what sets financial oversight apart from financial investigations, which take place after illegal behavior has turned up.

It’s difficult to regard Lee, who served as a prosecutor in the former office of special investigations, as having demonstrated his ability to play that role. It’s also doubtful whether Yoon understood the difference between financial oversight and prosecutors’ investigation of financial crimes in making this nomination.

There have already been fears that Korea is becoming a “prosecutorial republic,” since former prosecutors are handling personnel work at the presidential office while the Ministry of Justice — under former prosecutor Han Dong-hoon — is in charge of vetting appointments.

As announced, someone without a background in the prosecution service was named to direct the ministry’s personnel information management team, which was launched Tuesday. Nevertheless, the assistant director and team members who will handle the actual vetting work are prosecutors from the Yoon Division who were transferred from his presidential transition team.

When a reporter asked Yoon on his way to work to respond to accusations that former prosecutors are dominating his appointments, he said, “My principle for choosing personnel is to use competent people and find the best person for the job.”

The obvious retort here is to ask whether the prosecution service is the sole source of competent people in this country.

Looking at the appointments on Tuesday — which put a former prosecutor in charge of financial oversight — you can’t help wondering whether prosecutors are the masters of this country.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles