South Korean President Moon Jae-in — swept into office on a vow to clean up government after his predecessor was ousted for graft — wanted a prosecutor who wouldn’t hesitate to go after the most powerful.
Problem is, Moon may have gotten what he wished for in Yoon Seok-youl.
Almost immediately after being appointed as the nation’s chief prosecutor in July, Yoon launched a series of probes that have rocked Moon’s two-year-old administration.
The scandal has forced one justice minister to resign and helped push Moon’s approval rating to a record low — just as he girds for an April parliamentary election that will shape the second half of his term.
The investigations are only the latest in string of high-profile cases brought by Yoon, 58, over the years, including probes of two former presidents, a chief justice and the heads of Samsung Electronics Co and Hyundai Motor Co. After then-President Park Geun-hye demoted Yoon, he joined the special prosecutor’s team whose findings laid the groundwork for her impeachment and removal.
“I’m not loyal to anyone,” he famously told lawmakers when asked about one such probe in 2013.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Yoon’s latest case involves a man whom Moon once predicted would make a “fantastic duo” with the chief prosecutor: Former Justice Minster Cho Kuk. Last month, Cho was forced to resign after just five weeks on the job amid investigations into whether members of his family inflated college admission applications and improperly benefited from investments in a private equity fund.
While Cho has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been accused of any crimes, his wife and nephew have been indicted on various charges while his brother has been detained for questioning. Any expansion of Yoon’s probe to implicate him personally would pose problems for Moon, who decided to force through Cho’s appointment even after the investigations began.
The investigations add a new worry for Moon on top of a slowing economy and a North Korean regime that has mocked his efforts to play a mediating role in nuclear talks with the US.