Independent panel recommends indictment of Seoul prosecution chief for power abuse

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) — An independent panel created to review the validity of an ongoing investigation into the Seoul prosecution chief recommended Monday that he be indicted on charges of abuse of power.

The 15-member panel reached the conclusion by 8 to 4, with one abstention. Two members were unable to attend for unspecified reasons.

Lee Sung-yoon, chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office, is being probed over allegations he exercised undue influence in 2019 to stop an inquiry into the allegedly illegal exit ban imposed on a former senior official.

The Supreme Prosecutors Office last month accepted Lee’s request for outside experts’ review of the legality of the probe. He argued the case should be transferred to a new investigative agency in charge of public corruption.

The panel’s members have been selected from a pool of some 250 figures from academia, media, civic groups and other various sectors.

The independent review system was introduced in 2018 to ensure the neutrality and fairness of cases that are of great public interest. But its recommendations are not legally binding.

In March 2019, former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-ui was stopped at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, from leaving the country as prosecutors sought to reinvestigate allegations that he received sexual favors from a local constructor more than a decade ago.

A whistleblower has claimed the travel ban enforced by the justice ministry did not follow due procedures and that Lee, then head of the Supreme Prosecutors Office’s anti-corruption team, abused his power to block an investigation into officials involved in the exit ban.

Lee has strongly denied the allegations and expressed concerns about “biased” media reports and “possibly targeted” investigation against him.