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(News Focus) Chief prosecutor pressed to resign amid unprecedented crisis
SEOUL, Nov. 29 (Yonhap) -- A conflict within the prosecution, which has been tarnished by a series of scandals, has escalated to the point where the chief prosecutor has come under intense pressure to resign.

   Ranking prosecutors of the Supreme Prosecutors' Office (SPO) and a group of senior prosecutors at the Seoul High Prosecutor's Office on Thursday demanded that Prosecutor General Han Sang-dae voluntarily step down to take responsibility as head of one of the most powerful investigative authorities.

   The move comes after the prosecutors have apparently come into realization that bone-cutting efforts are necessary to overcome what they call "the biggest crisis that has ever hit the prosecution."

   The integrity of the prosecution was deeply hurt and the public confidence in the prosecution could not be more dismal, due to recent embarrassing sex and graft scandals involving incumbent prosecutors, and internal conflicts among high-ranking prosecution officials.

   A survey released earlier this week showed that the prosecution was seen as the most corrupt agency by citizens.


The crisis first began when a senior prosecutor came under a police investigation on suspicion of receiving bribes from a conglomerate and a notorious swindler.

   Kim Kwang-joon was arrested for receiving a total of nearly 900 million won (US$826,000) from Cho Hee-pal, the mastermind of South Korea's biggest pyramid scheme, and the Eugene Group, a mid-sized conglomerate, in exchange for influence peddling.

   Following Kim's arrest, Prosecutor-General Han issued a written apology, saying that he felt deeply ashamed and that the organization needed an overhaul.

   Just days later, however, it was revealed that a trainee prosecutor had allegedly engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with a female suspect he was questioning, at his own office.

   The 30-year-old junior prosecutor surnamed Jeon is accused of having sexual activity with a 42-year-old female suspect while questioning her about a theft case on Nov. 10. He is also suspected of having sex with the suspect at a motel two days after their first exchange.

   It is still unclear whether Prosecutor General Han will accept the prosecutors' calls as he had said earlier this week that he would announce a set of reform measures on Friday. He rejected senior prosecutors' demand for his resignation after urging them to quit together.

   He said he will look at all the options for a new starting point, considering the disbandment of the Central Investigation Unit (CIU) that handles all high-profile cases.

   Adding to the crisis, the SPO said Wednesday that it has launched an internal inspection into Choi Jae-kyong, the head of the CIU, on suspicion that he advised Kim Kwang-joon on how to deal with the media while Kim was under investigation by special prosecutors.

   It marks the first time that the head of the CIU has come under an inspection.

   "There were conflicts when exchanging opinions (with Prosecutor General Han) regarding the prosecution's countermeasures to recent scandals," Choi said in a statement. "I believe the inspection is the result of that (conflict)."

   Prosecutor General Han is scheduled to hold a meeting with low-ranking prosecutors later in the day.