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Justice minister nominee criticizes prosecution reform laws at hearing

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Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon answers to the question during his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly, Monday. Yonhap
Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon answers to the question during his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly, Monday. Yonhap

By Lee Hae-rin

Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon contested prosecutorial reform laws that were passed by the ruling party and accused prosecutors of being politically influenced during the Moon Jae-in administration.

During his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly, Monday, the nominee said he believes the reform laws are unconstitutional and could harm the public's interests.

"As an expert, I am convinced that the laws are unconstitutional," Han said as he answered questions by main opposition People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Kim Hyung-dong. "The laws are equivalent to separating those who study for an exam and those who are actually taking it."

Han added that he will continue to raise questions on the validity of the laws, if and when he becomes the minister.

The revised the Prosecutors' Office Act and the Criminal Procedure Act were passed by the National Assembly dominated by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and were signed into laws by President Moon Jae-in last week, despite strong protests from the PPP and the prosecution. They are aimed at separating prosecutors' investigative powers from their authority to indict.

Also, Han said that the prosecution had become politicized under the Moon administration, especially since the appointment of former justice minister Cho Kuk, who was Moon's close aide.

"Prosecutors who do their jobs have been kicked out, while more amenable ones were allowed to take the posts," Han said.

The nominee also denied any wrongdoing regarding suspicions that his mother attempted to dodge taxes while bequeathing a piece of real estate to Han.

The remarks came after the morning session of his confirmation hearing was bogged down by inter-party bickering over Han's opening speech of the hearing, in which he said the prosecutorial reform bills have heightened the public's concerns.

"They will make it difficult to punish corrupt politicians and public officials while resulting in clear harm to the people," said the nominee, a senior prosecutor and confidant of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.

"People want the prosecution to build a trustworthy system in which competent prosecutors can investigate corruption cases freely."

Han made similar statements in April before the revisions were made, but the latest remarks elicited a strong response from DPK lawmakers.

Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon delivers opening remarks during his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly, Seoul, Monday. Joint Press Corp
Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon delivers opening remarks during his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly, Seoul, Monday. Joint Press Corp

Unlike other confirmation hearings where Cabinet nominees were grilled by lawmakers demanding answers to suspicions or allegations, Han had no opportunities to be heard, except during his opening speech. During the two-hour morning session, he could only watch silently as the ruling and opposition parties argued over the nominee and his past remarks, without asking him any questions.

Proponents of the prosecutorial reform claim it will prevent prosecutors from abusing their authority for political purposes. But the PPP has condemned the laws, claiming they are aimed at protecting outgoing President Moon Jae-in and officials of his government from possible investigations by prosecutors.

"If the nominee made the remark on prosecutorial reform bills on purpose, it is a provocation against the hearing," DPK Rep. Kim Young-bae said.

Meanwhile PPP lawmakers tried to defend the nominee.

PPP Rep. Park Hyeung-soo said Han should not be asked to apologize for using widely used terms that people are familiar with and demanded DPK lawmakers make their points during questioning.

Since being nominated, Han has faced several allegations including his family's tax evasion, illegal inheritance of property and academic fraud.

During the hearing, DPK committee members condemned the nominee for not submitting documents requested by the lawmakers to verify his competence and integrity, while PPP members countered that some of the document requests have been unreasonable.



Lee Hae-rin lhr@koreatimes.co.kr


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