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Yoon’s office flip-flops on independent inspector role after criticism

Presidential office says system to investigate corruption of public officials under review

May 31, 2022 - 15:06 By Shin Ji-hye
President Yoon Suk-yeol holds a meeting with senior secretaries at the presidential office on Monday. Yonhap

The presidential office has backtracked on its stance on abolishing the role of an independent inspector general as criticism arose even within the ruling bloc, saying it would not get rid of the position.

A senior official from the presidential office told reporters Tuesday, “We are sorry that it seemed like we were discussing the premise of abolishing (the position of) the independent inspector general.”

“We are reviewing a good system -- including an independent inspector general -- to investigate the corruption of public officials,” the official said.

The independent inspector general is a position established in 2014 during the former Park Geun-hye administration to inspect the president’s spouse, close relatives and senior secretaries. No special inspector was appointed during the Moon Jae-in administration. The People Power Party and Yoon Suk-yeol had pledged to revive the position during the election campaign.

However, a day earlier, some media outlets reported that Yoon was considering abolishing the special inspector system. Following the news reports, officials from the presidential office also told reporters they were reviewing a new system.

“As the Yoon Suk-yeol administration abolished the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs and gave up the inspection control function, it is necessary to reexamine the independent inspector general system,” a presidential official said.

When asked how corruption investigations into the president’s relatives would be carried out, he said it would be done by the prosecution and police.

Criticism was swift from inside and outside the ruling bloc following the news reports.

Rep. Chang Je-won of the ruling People Power Party said Tuesday that the presidential office needed to “wake up” if the remarks were actually true.

Kim Min-seok, co-chair of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea’s election committee, also denounced the move.

“The president’s family and senior officials are now able to enjoy unlimited freedom under the protection of the extrajudicial and imperial Ministry of Justice,” Kim said.

As controversy arose, Yoon told his aides that the appointment of an independent inspector general is “a matter of legislation” in the National Assembly. According to Yoon’s aide, he said the controversy over the abolition of the special inspectorate was “absurd.”

The office of the independent inspector general was launched in March 2015 with the appointment of Lee Seok-su during the Park Geun-hye administration. The system appeared to have achieved its purpose -- it had filed a complaint with the prosecution against the then-president’s younger sister Park Geun-ryoung, former chairwoman of the Yookyoung Foundation, in 2016.

After clashing with Cheong Wa Dae in its attempt to look into tax evasion allegations brought against Woo Byung-woo, then chief of civil affairs, the inspector resigned in September 2016. The position has been vacant since.

President Moon Jae-in did not appoint a special inspector for five years on the grounds that the role overlapped with the anti-corruption agency. Since the inspector general’s office was established by law, more than 1 billion won ($808,000) was spent on it every year.

“The independent inspector general system did not work properly in the last two governments,” said an official from the presidential office. “It is natural to review the system.”