Prosecutors need real change

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Prosecutors need real change

The Central Investigation Unit of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, founded in 1961, is about to shut down after 52 years. The fate of the elite investigation team was long debated, and the final decision has finally been made.

Now the time has come to focus on restructuring the prosecution to fight corruption and abuse of power.

According to a report made to the transition team of President-elect Park Geun-hye, prosecutors plan to shut down the unit while preserving the function of commanding special investigations at the local level. The prosecution proposed establishing a special investigation prosecutors’ office under the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office as an alternative.

Since Park made public the plan to reform the prosecution by handing the role of the Central Investigation Unit to lower-level bureaus such as the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, more specific discussion is expected to follow.

Until now, the Central Investigation Unit was considered a symbol of rooting out high-profile corruption. It did hard jobs like arresting the son of an incumbent president and investigating illegal presidential election funds.

But it was also criticized for abusing its power and inviting politicians’ influence because it handled cases - and made indictments - under direct supervision of the prosecutor general. Prosecution reform should serve as an opportunity to keep the positive elements of special investigations while ending their unwanted adverse effects.

The shutdown of the Central Investigation Unit must not weaken the prosecution’s investigative power or allow influence peddling on the part of politicians, public servants or businesses.

To this end, efforts to carefully realign special investigation personnel must follow.

However, the prosecution’s proposal to establish a similar investigative body under the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office should be rejected because it will do little more than change the existing bureau’s name.

Proper reform will ensure that no particular head of a district prosecutors’ office will have excessive power. But under the proposal, the chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office could abuse his reinforced role.

Even though the Central Investigation Unit will be abolished, nothing will change unless the prosecution truly undergoes fundamental reform. The realignment of special investigation powers can only succeed when it strictly abides by the principles of checks and balances and fair division of power.

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