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[Editorial] Impeachment right abuse

DP’s move to impeach prosecutors is ill-founded, threatens rule of law

July 9, 2024 - 05:29 By Korea Herald

The main opposition party’s recent move to impeach prosecutors is hard to accept from a common-sense point of view. It seems ill-founded and threatens to undermine the rule of law.

The Democratic Party of Korea proposed a motion last week to impeach four prosecutors, three of whom either investigated or commanded investigations of allegations linked to its former leader, Rep. Lee Jae-myung. The complaints include concerns about development projects and Ssangbangwool Group’s illegal cash payment to North Korea. The motion is tantamount to a suspect trying to inquire into the guilt of his or her investigators.

The party should be ashamed that its former leader is on trial over the scandals, but rather it seems to be trying to retaliate against prosecutors who investigated him and trying to influence related investigations and trials.

Some of the stated reasons for the impeachments are unconvincing. Among them is an unconfirmed rumor that the prosecutor who investigated Ssangbangwool’s cash payment to North Korea, Park Sang-yong, deputy prosecutor of the Suwon District Prosecutors Office, allegedly behaved indecently by damaging public property during a dinner with other prosecutors in 2019.

The party also alleges that Park tried to coerce Lee Hwa-young, the former vice governor of Gyeonggi Province, into making false statements, which Park says is unfounded. The former vice governor has been convicted in the case of cash payment to North Korea.

Furthermore, the party will not take the motion directly to a vote in the National Assembly plenary session. It plans to hold a hearing in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee for lawmakers to question the four prosecutors directly.

The party effectively wants to prosecute prosecutors who investigated allegations involving its former leader. It seems the party intends to press hard on them as suspects.

Moreover, two Democratic Party lawmakers sitting on the committee are former lawyers who defended Lee in the cases in question. Few would think that this situation is normal. There is little possibility that the move to impeach these four prosecutors will change the outcomes of Lee’s trials.

The Democratic Party-dominated Assembly passed the first-ever impeachment motion against prosecutor Ahn Dong-wan in September last year, but the Constitutional Court dismissed it in May. The prosecutor faced an impeachment trial in connection with the investigation of a Seoul city employee who was found to have been falsely charged with espionage. Given this precedent, the latest tenuous impeachment motion is likely to get rejected by the court.

Nonetheless, the party is pushing ahead with the impeachment, apparently because it seeks to shield Rep. Lee Jae-myung from the judiciary. If the Assembly passes the motion to impeach the four prosecutors, they will be suspended for several months until the Constitutional Court hands down a ruling.

The court is unlikely to approve the motion but the Democratic Party seems to expect the suspension of prosecutors to set back their investigations and related trials. Also, the motion can send judges the message that they could be impeached, too. If a prosecutor or judge can be impeached simply because they investigated or tried cases involving a powerful man, the rule of law would crumble.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Democratic Party has not been reserved in seeking impeachment of public officials under President Yoon Suk Yeol. The party has so far proposed impeachment motions against 12 officials. To some, it seems that the party is doing so to put Lee at an advantage in the next presidential election.

The party is likely to keep up pressure on the Yoon administration with bolder attempts to impeach officials they seem to see as unfriendly to their interests.

People gave the party an overwhelming majority in the April 10 general elections. What they wanted from the party was its exercise of legislative power to improve their livelihoods through cooperation with the government and the ruling party. People did not give it a landslide win to see it wield power as it likes.