President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday tapped Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Commissioner Woo Jong-soo as the new state investigation chief, ending the leadership vacuum created by an ex-prosecutor who resigned from the post amid a school bullying controversy involving his son.
The new chief of the National Office of Investigation will oversee 30,000 investigators under the national police, according to Yoon's office. Launched in 2021, the NOI, often referred as the Korean version of the US' Federal Bureau of Investigation, is an independent body that supervises the police's investigations into crimes. Unlike the FBI which operates under the supervision of the US Department of Justice, the NOI is a part of the Korean National Police Agency, but is free from the control of the KNPA commissioner, except for cases related to public security such as terrorism. The jurisdiction over investigations into North Korean espionage activities is also set to be transferred to the NOI in 2024.
Woo has worked in the police service since 1999. He has led a number of high-profile probes, including one on an online opinion-rigging scandal in 2018 and on former Seoul City officials over sexual harassment allegations against late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who died in an apparent suicide in 2020.
The previous nominee, former prosecutor Chung Sun-sin, came under fire after it was revealed he took legal actions to defend his son, who bullied his classmates. Chung stepped down from the post in late February.
Commissioner-general Yoon opted to promote a veteran police officer and recommended Woo to President Yoon, instead of arranging another lengthy hiring process of a non-police officer to lead the state investigation body.
Also on Monday, opposition party lawmakers blamed the Justice Ministry for failing to detect Chung's misdeeds prior to his nomination. The Yoon administration’s vetting process was the center of debate at a parliamentary committee meeting.
The Justice Ministry oversees the Personnel Information Management Bureau, a central government body dedicated to vetting high-ranking government appointees. Chung's failure to disclose his son’s wrongdoings stirred criticism that the government body had failed to fulfill its duty.
Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon told lawmakers of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee he "is bound to improve the vetting system" with the presidential office, adding that Chung would have been removed from the running had it been aware of the circumstances.
Han, however, implied that finding a middle ground regarding the intensity of the vetting process is a daunting task, given that a stronger process could increase the risk of personal data infringement.