The controversy over the Moon Jae-in administration’s suspicious travel ban on former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui is growing out of control. Evidence shows that high-level government officials — including Justice Minister Park Sang-ki, anticorruption department head Lee Seong-yun at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, and the justice minister’s policy advisor Lee Jong-keun in 2019 — were involved in illegitimately prohibiting the vice justice minister from traveling to Thailand in May of the year. The findings point to the possibility of collusion among senior officials from the Justice Ministry and the prosecution and an apparent attempt to cover it up. Most of the officials allegedly involved in the arrest of Kim at Incheon International Airport cooperated with former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae in punishing Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, which later was turned down by a court. We are deeply concerned about their apparent violation of the kind of procedural justice so ardently championed by President Moon.
According to a 106-page petition to the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission, the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office tried to conceal their illegal act after banning Kim from departing the country in the early morning of March 23, 2019. On the policy advisor’s visit to the headquarters of the Korea Immigration Service on the same day, a civil servant wrote in a group chatroom, “The advisor from the Justice Ministry is giving a bunch of orders in order not to cause any damage to the prosecution.” The posting suggests the possibility of a cover-up. The petition also suggests the likelihood that those senior officials created a fake written request for an exit ban on Kim.
The act of high-level officials collecting sensitive private information on the former vice justice minister through civil servants constitutes a serious crime. The alleged accomplices number 11, including former Justice Minister Park, and they may have violated the Privacy Protection Law, the Public Documents Counterfeit Act and others.
The Justice Ministry came up with ludicrous excuses on Tuesday. It cited the need to arrest Kim on serious criminal charges. But no matter how serious the crimes are, the law enforcement authority must follow appropriate procedures before transferring the case to a court. The Justice Ministry also claimed that prosecutor Lee Gyu-won had authority to issue a ban on a suspect’s exit from the country. But the law stipulates that that comes under the jurisdiction of the head of a law enforcement agency. To make matters worse, the prosecutor cited the need to arrest Kim on the spot because he is supposed to be investigated by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on March 25 for taking bribes.
It is fortunate that Prosecutor General Yoon ordered the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office to probe the case. A branch of the district prosecutors’ office has been under suspicion that it dismissed two accusations about the case since April 2019.
The Blue House is not free from accountability. The main opposition party has claimed that a presidential secretary for civil affairs exercised influence in dispatching a prosecutor to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office’s committee on probing corruption of the past administrations. The Blue House may have been involved in blocking Kim’s exit — five days after the president ordered a re-investigation of Kim’s corruption case. We need answers.