[Editorial] Yoon must stop abusing authority to shield himself from investigation

Posted on : 2024-05-16 17:02 KST Modified on : 2024-05-16 17:02 KST
Vetoing the bill to appoint a special counsel to look into possible meddling in the investigation into a Marine’s death will only fuel public outrage that the president is using his authority to shield himself and his family
President Yoon Suk-yeol takes part in a ceremony marking Buddha’s Birthday held at Jogye Temple in Seoul’s Jongno District on May 15, 2024. (pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol takes part in a ceremony marking Buddha’s Birthday held at Jogye Temple in Seoul’s Jongno District on May 15, 2024. (pool photo)

Amid intense blowback from the recent reshuffle of senior prosecutors, which saw the sudden replacement of the leadership overseeing the investigation into first lady Kim Keon-hee, it is becoming increasingly evident that the presidential office interfered in the investigation into the death of a Marine last year. If the president continues to use his authority to cover up these incidents, public suspicion will only grow. President Yoon Suk-yeol must stop obsessing over shielding himself and his family and allow for a thorough probe based on law and principles. 

According to the Hankyoreh’s reporting on Wednesday, on July 30 of last year, the day before the Marine Corps investigation team announced their decision to hand over eight individuals, including the commander of the division in question, Lim Seong-geun, to the police, the presidential office received “press briefing materials” from the Marine Corps. Col. Park Jeong-hun, the head of the investigation, refused a request from a Marine colonel surnamed Kim dispatched to the presidential office’s National Security Office to send over an investigation report, saying that “the director of national security wants to see it.”  

However, following an order by Marine Corps Commandant Kim Gye-hwan, who said, “The National Security Office has been sending repeated requests, so send some press briefing materials at the very least,” Park ultimately sent the document. In other words, Park ultimately acceded to the demands of the presidential office, despite initially protecting the security of the investigation materials in accordance with laws safeguarding the independence of military police investigations.  

This, in and of itself, shows that the presidential office’s actions were unlawful. Ultimately, the next day, following a meeting chaired by the president in which there was a briefing on the handling of Chae’s case, a scheduled media briefing was suddenly canceled, and the police handover was ordered to halt. 

It was also revealed that on Aug. 2, when Park pushed ahead with the police handover and the Ministry of National Defense intervened to retract it, there was a phone call between Lee Si-won, the presidential office’s civil service discipline secretary, and Yoo Jae-eun, general counsel at the Ministry of National Defense. Yoo testified to the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials that the call was made in response to a “request for a report on how the military death case was being handled.” Reports also emerged that the two had over 20 calls during this period.  

Evidence is mounting of widespread interference by the presidential office, including the National Security Office and the office of the secretary to the president for civil service discipline, in the investigation. In such a situation, if the president rejects the bill calling for a special counsel to investigate Chae’s death, it will do nothing but prove his own past statements that only those who are guilty would reject a special counsel. 

Even within the ruling party, criticism of the recent prosecution reshuffle is rampant, with comments urging the presidential office to “be more mindful of public opinion” and calling its actions “unwise.” This has only heightened public suspicion and strengthened the case for a special counsel. The same applies to Chae’s case. After the reshuffle of high-ranking prosecutors, vetoing the bill to appoint a special counsel will only fuel public outrage that the president is using his authority to shield himself and his family. Yoon must promptly approve the special counsel probe into the Marine’s death and cease obstructing the investigation into the first lady. 

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

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