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Prosecution advised to scrap intelligence groups

Oct 30,2019
In its latest measure to reduce the power of prosecutors, the government’s prosecutorial reform committee advised the prosecution on Monday to “immediately scrap” various intelligence-gathering groups within its body, claiming the information they collect can be misused for “a certain purpose.”

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office did not give an official response, but senior prosecutors who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo on the condition of anonymity expressed concern about the committee’s formal recommendation, saying it could sabotage prosecutors’ legitimate work.

The judicial and prosecutorial reform committee within the Ministry of Justice held a meeting on Monday and specifically advised the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office to abolish its Investigative Intelligence Office, Investigative Intelligence Division I and Investigative Intelligence Division II. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, the Gwangju High Prosecutors’ Office and the Daegu High Prosecutors’ Office were likewise advised to get rid of their intelligence departments.

It was suggested that those currently working in the groups be transferred to criminal departments or public security departments.

One official who works at an intelligence office within the prosecution told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday that the reform committee’s latest recommendation was basically telling prosecutors not to investigate any suspicious cases unless a formal complaint has been filed with them.

“The government tied the prosecution’s arms and legs by forcing it to shut down its special investigation departments, and now it’s trying to blindfold our eyes by telling us to shut down our intelligence-gathering groups,” said the source.

Early this month, President Moon Jae-in ordered Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl to swiftly present a plan to reform the state prosecution agency, saying he was supportive of then-Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s plan to overhaul the prosecution.

Cho, who resigned on Oct. 14, essentially wanted to strengthen the criminal and litigation departments, which was seen as a de facto measure to weaken the prosecution’s elite special investigation unit that handles high-profile cases such as the ongoing probe into his family.

A day after Moon’s order, Yoon announced he would shut down all special investigation departments except for three, including the unit at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office that is probing the Cho family.

Another senior prosecutor in Seoul said if the prosecution demolishes its intelligence-gathering units, prosecutors will be deprived of their chance to figure out early on corruption cases linked to high-level government officials and the fraudulent acts of companies that harm the market economy, which, in turn, will enable those law-breakers to get away more easily.

A third prosecutor who works in Seoul said the prosecution has already “rooted out” the practice of collecting so-called trend reports on high-profile figures under the helm of former Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il, suggesting that further measures to curb prosecutors’ intelligence-gathering won’t be helpful to the organization.

“It’s like [the government] is rolling out recommendations without even knowing the prosecution’s current intelligence-gathering functions,” he lamented.

BY KIM KI-JEONG, YOUN SANG-UN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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