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Politics

Moon replaces justice minister amid sinking approval ratings

Top aides resign to grant South Korean president a clean slate

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, center, seeks to improve his approval rating with a cabinet reshuffle. (Photo courtesy of South Korea's presidential office)

SEOUL -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in has removed the justice minister who stirred controversy in a tug-of-war between the government and the country's top prosecutor.

Moon said Wednesday that he officially accepted the resignation of Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and announced the nomination of her successor, Park Beom-kye, a lawmaker close to the president.

Park told the press Wednesday that he will "complete the prosecutorial reforms," indicating that the administration will continue to press forward with shaking up the prosecutor's office, which enjoys wide-ranging powers.

The chief prosecutor, Yoon Seok-youl, has been leading an investigation into the presidential Blue House, which has helped drop Moon's approval rating to a record low below 40%.

On Dec. 16, Choo handed down a two-month suspension of Yoon for collecting and distributing personal information on judges. Choo offered to step down from her position that same day.

Yoon successfully petitioned a Seoul court to issue an injunction against the suspension, allowing him to return to work investigating allegations of wrongdoing by the Blue House.

A new state investigative agency, the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, is due to launch in January. Moon announced Wednesday his first pick to head the office, former judge Kim Jin-wook.

The office, also known as the CIO, will handle high-profile investigations of senior government officials and politicians -- cases which had previously been under the sole purview of the prosecutors' office. The Moon administration hopes to have the CIO up and running quickly to dilute the power of the prosecutors.

The failure to reign in soaring property values and the faltering coronavirus response have also contributed to the Moon administration's declining approval rating.

This prompted a number of Moon's top aides to tender their resignations on Wednesday. They include Noh Young-min, the presidential chief of staff, and Kim Sang-jo, the president's chief of staff for policy.

According to a Blue House spokesperson, the aides said they stepped down to give the president a fresh start to piece together a new national agenda. As the next presidential election approaches in March 2022, Moon looks to overhaul state affairs with a reshuffled inner circle.

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