Reps want to clip prosecutors’ wings

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Reps want to clip prosecutors’ wings

A political storm was unleashed in the National Assembly yesterday as the main opposition Democratic Party threatened to pass laws that would hit back at the prosecution, which raided the offices of 11 sitting lawmakers, while the ruling Grand National Party joined in on the criticism.

“The National Assembly will form a special committee on judicial reform to speed up overhaul of the prosecution,” Democratic Party floor leader Park Jie-won said yesterday at a press conference, calling the raids “a declaration of war against the legislature” and a “coup” by prosecutors to “destroy democracy.”

The Democrats said they will push forward legislation to create an independent investigative body to probe corruption by senior public servants, which would limit prosecutors’ power.

The raids were part of a graft investigation into a security guards’ association that prosecutors believe gave donations to lawmakers for their support of a law that boosted security-guard pay and delayed their retirement age. According to the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office, offices of five Grand Nationals, five Democrats and one from the Liberty Forward Party were raided Friday.

Another senior leader from the DP, Chung Sye-kyun, also condemned the prosecution, demanding the prosecutor general’s impeachment. The Democrats argued that the Blue House was behind the raids to retaliate against lawmaker Kang Gi-jung, who had made a graft accusation against the first lady, Kim Yoon-ok. But the ruling Grand National Party also joined the criticism against the prosecution.

“Before conducting the raids, the prosecution did not ask the 11 lawmakers to provide information,” said GNP spokesman Ahn Hyoung-hwan. “The raids also took place on the eve of an important national event, the G-20 Summit. It is the party leadership’s position that the prosecutors’ moves were careless.”

Ahn also said the ruling party is extremely concerned about the looming deadlock in the legislature, as the time approaches for the National Assembly to review and approve next year’s budget. GNP chairman Ahn Sang-soo also said the prosecution went too far.

“We warned earlier that the prosecution must not use its investigative authorities excessively, but this time, they crossed the line,” Ahn told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Blue House denied yesterday that it was behind the prosecution’s moves. “And it’s not the time to intentionally and artificially move forward the probe because the G-20 Summit is drawing near,” a senior presidential aide said.

The prosecution’s upper chain of command appears to have been out of the loop on the raid plans. According to sources at the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office, Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam was not informed when the northern district prosecutors sought search warrants on Thursday and used them the next day.

According to the sources, Lee ordered district offices on Thursday to refrain from pushing forward the probes until the G-20 Summit ends. Despite the minister’s order, the northern district office applied for 50 search warrants and informed the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office about its plan on Thursday. But until the raids took place on Friday the Justice Ministry was left in the dark, the sources said.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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