Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon at his inauguration on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The Seoul Southern District Prosecutors Office said Wednesday that it has reinstated the joint team on financial and securities fraud that was disbanded by the previous Moon government, a day after the new justice minister called for it at his inauguration.
The joint team, which was set up in 2013 but dissolved in 2020 amid criticisms that prosecutors abused their authority, epitomized the power and influence wielded by the prosecution. The team, dubbed the market’s “angel of death,” had dealt with high-profile figures like chaebol and political heavyweights.
The revival marks the first official act by Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon, a vocal supporter of a strong prosecution. It comes at a time when prosecutors are legally obliged to hand over most of their powers to investigate crimes to the police, due to two bills that were signed right before the current administration came into power.
Just before President Yoon Suk-yeol took office on May 10, former President Moon Jae-in signed into law bills his Democratic Party had passed to follow through on Moon’s pledge to ban prosecutors from running investigations because they had abused the power too much.
Justice Minister Han, a longtime prosecutor and a confidant of President Yoon Suk-yeol, has repeatedly opposed the change, calling it wrong and lacking deliberation. Moon’s Democratic Party of Korea, which controls the parliament, have changed laws twice in 2020 and again this month to diminish prosecutor authority.
Han is expected to back efforts to reverse the rule change, which limits prosecutors to opening an investigation into only financial crimes and corruption until 2023, after which they will be mandated to just deal with defense lawyers at trials.
The Justice Ministry is seeking to ask the Constitutional Court to see whether there had been any flaws in the way the opposition Democratic Party had almost unilaterally pushed through the laws in early May. Details on how the ministry plans to make its case is still being discussed, according to an official there.
Speculation is mounting over whether the team’s revival would be the first step of many to come in Han’s efforts to reverse what the previous Moon government had done to the justice system, which Han said should be fair to every South Korean.