Justice ministry to go ahead with inspection of top prosecutor

SEOUL, Sept. 16 (Yonhap) -- The Ministry of Justice will push ahead with a planned internal inspection of the top prosecutor who offered to quit last week over allegations that he has an illegitimate child, officials said Monday.

Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Friday ordered an internal investigation into a media report that Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook fathered a son through an extramarital affair in 2002. It was the first time that a justice minister has made such an order regarding an incumbent top prosecutor.

Minutes after the order, Chae tendered his resignation, saying that while he denies the allegations, they still would make it difficult for him to carry out his duties as chief prosecutor. President Park Geun-hye has yet to accept his resignation.

"The inspection will be carried out as planned to reveal the truth," a justice ministry official said, adding that the ministry has not revoked the inspection, as some media reports alleged.

Some saw Chae's departure as an effort to evade the inspection for fears that the allegations would prove true, while the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) and some critics denounced the rare order as an attempt to force Chae out of office and tame the prosecution.

The ministry, however, denied the allegations that Justice Minister Hwang handed Chae a public ultimatum by ordering such an inspection.

"The (justice) minister met the prosecutor general (Chae) and had a phone call with him to discuss the issue but never mentioned resignation," the ministry official said.

The DP and the critics also believe that Chae has been forced to quit for aggressively pursuing an investigation into allegations that the state-run National Intelligence Service (NIS) attempted to influence last December's presidential election in favor of the ruling party.

They also claimed that Chae's departure is part of an attempt to blunt the probe.

In a dramatic move, Chae on Monday ordered an inspection into a senior prosecutor suspected of spying on him, a prosecution official said. Chae did not show up for work on Monday, a prosecution official said, adding that he has taken an annual vacation instead.

His order came shortly after Rep. Park Jie-won of the DP alleged that a former senior presidential secretary colluded with a top intelligence official to spy on Chae. The alleged spying was conducted mainly in August, and the former secretary, Kwak Sang-do, handed over the file on Chae to his successor, Lee Joong-hee, when he was replaced in a reshuffle of the top office last month, the lawmaker claimed.

Rep. Park also alleged that the new secretary shared the file with Kim Kwang-Soo, the senior prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.

"Prosecutor General Chae ordered the prosecution office to conduct an inspection into Kim," the prosecution official said, adding that the prosecution office will soon analyze phone records.

Kim, however, flatly denied the allegations.

"I am just so perplexed because of groundless allegations," Kim said in a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency, adding that he will face the internal inspection.

Amid the tit-for-tat between political parties, the prosecution office and the Ministry of Justice, a local civic group issued a statement calling for the ministry to revoke the unfair inspection order.

"We deplore that Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered an inspection into the prosecutor general over a 'personal matter' while illegal acts of the NIS are being tried at a court," the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said.

Also, a local bar association held a press conference, saying that it is mulling over asking the prosecution office to launch an investigation into an alleged rights violation of a boy suspected to be Chae's son.

"A grave human rights violation occurred when the media not only revealed the child's school records but also his picture," the Korean Bar Association said.

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