The Korea Herald


Yoon's ex-boss named justice minister nominee

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Jan. 23, 2024 - 14:49

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Justice Minister nominee Park Sung-jae (Yonhap) Justice Minister nominee Park Sung-jae (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday picked his former boss Park Sung-jae, who led the Seoul High Prosecutors' Office, as the nominee for the minister of justice.

The Justice Ministry oversees legal affairs, correctional services, the prosecution service and immigration. The nominee must go through a confirmation hearing in the National Assembly before receiving Yoon's final approval.

Presidential Chief of Staff Lee Kwan-sup said Park would be a good fit for the Yoon administration's "criminal justice reform drive" in a briefing on Tuesday.

Should Park garner Yoon's confirmation, he will succeed Han Dong-hoon, who stepped down from the post in December to assume the interim leader role of the ruling People Power Party four months ahead of the general election. The top post at the Justice Ministry has been vacant for more than a month.

With the nomination, Yoon is looking to wrap up a reshuffle of his Cabinet.

Park, 61, is a career public prosecutor who formerly led the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office and the Seoul High Prosecutors' Office.

Park retired from the top post at the high prosecutors' office after Moon Moo-il, Park's junior, became the first prosecutor general under liberal former President Moon Jae-in in 2017. Park is currently an attorney at Korean law firm Haesong.

This nomination is the latest among Yoon's decisions to nominate his personal acquaintances from Korea's legal circles, including his former colleagues or bosses at the prosecution service.

Park was Yoon's senior in South Korea's prosecution service, where a strong hierarchy is often in place. Park was chief of the Daegu High Prosecutors' Office when Yoon was working there for two years until 2015.

Before Park, Yu Chul-hwan, former senior court judge, was tapped to lead the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, beginning on Jan. 10. Yu and Yoon were both admitted to the Seoul National University School of Law in 1979.

Yu's predecessor, Kim Hong-il, was approved to become the head of the broadcasting watchdog, the Korea Communications Commission, despite parliament's failure to agree on whether to confirm him at the confirmation hearing before the deadline. Kim was Yoon's boss in the early 2010s when the two worked together at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office

Before Yoon was elected president, he was a career prosecutor who started working in 1994. He assumed the prosecutor-general role from July 2018 to March 2021.

Former Justice Minister Han was known to have maintained a close relationship with Yoon when both were working as public prosecutors. Financial Supervisory Service Gov. Lee Bok-hyun was also formerly a prosecutor who worked with Yoon.

Meanwhile, the wrap-up of the reshuffle shows that the Yoon administration is lagging behind in its pursuit of gender equality, compared to the previous Moon Jae-in administration.

If Park's nomination is confirmed by Yoon, only five out of the 19 members of Yoon's Cabinet will be women. These include three new members nominated in December -- Veterans Affairs Minister Kang Jung-ai, Agriculture Minister Song Mi-ryung and Startups and SMEs Minister nominee Oh Young-ju -- as well as Environment Minister Han Wha-jin and Gender Equality Minister Kim Hyun-sook, who have been in their respective positions since the start of the Yoon administration in 2022. Upon Yoon's inauguration, Yoon had only three female ministers in the Cabinet.

South Korea's most gender-equal Cabinet in history was when the Moon administration had six females in the Cabinet out of 18 total members -- 33.3 percent -- through 2020. It had been Moon's presidential campaign promise to have at least nine women in his Cabinet or 50 percent.