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Lawmakers fail to reach consensus on Sewol law

July 18,2014
On the last day of the National Assembly’s 30-day extra session yesterday, ruling and opposition lawmakers failed to bridge their differences over a special law on the Sewol ferry tragedy.

The floor leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party and the largest opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) pledged with President Park Geun-hye during a meeting on July 10 to pass a special law to conclusively handle issues involved in the sinking, including compensation for the victims and punishment for those involved in the nation’s worst maritime disaster.

The most contested issue was whether to grant investigative authority to a newly launched fact-finding committee.

NPAD lawmakers supported the idea of granting the panel authority by enabling it to appoint a special judicial police official. Judicial police may launch independent investigations under the control of the prosecution, conduct raids and arrest suspects with warrants issued by the court.

“It is the least measure for the committee to have special judicial police in order to guarantee the right of the investigative authority,” NPAD Representative Jeon Hae-cheol said at the session yesterday.

The ruling party refused and said it would be enough to appoint a special prosecutors’ investigation team to look into the accident and hold people accountable. The committee members could then make their demands known to a special prosecutor if necessary, Saenuri lawmakers said.

Both sides, however, agreed on giving the committee the authority to order a witness to attend a questioning session by the committee members. If the witness refuses, he or she would be fined, the lawmakers said.

“We granted the right to summon a witness for a questioning ­- as powerful as the authority of a parliamentary probe,” said Hong Il-pyo, a Saenuri Party lawmaker. “Giving investigative authority to such a committee is unprecedented. Doing so would shake the basis of the entire prosecution system in the country.”

Because the assemblymen failed to reach a consensus over the special law, they are expected to propose a bill that would allow them to hold an additional session this month.

The families of the Sewol ferry victims held a rally yesterday at Gwanghwamun Square calling for the committee to have the authority not only to investigate but also indict a suspect.

By law, indictment is the sole right of the prosecution.

The families say, however, that they can’t trust the ongoing investigation by the prosecution and demanded that right.

“The reason why the Saenuri Party is opposing a special law that includes the right of investigation and indictment is because they are trying to block the truth behind the accident from involving the Blue House,” the families said in a joint statement.

The families, who have held a hunger strike for four consecutive days, also demanded to talk to President Park Geun-hye.

BY JEONG JONG-MOON, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]






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