Added push to give committee stronger powers

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Added push to give committee stronger powers

In the wake of the discovery of the remains of Yoo Byung-eun, de facto owner of the Sewol ferry, opposition lawmakers ratcheted up their attacks on the ruling party and the Park Geun-hye administration for failing to nab the nation’s most wanted man or recognize his remains when they had them.

They also demanded a new, powerful and more competent authority to investigate the tragic ferry sinking on behalf of the relatives of the victims.

The ongoing clash between the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy over a special law to launch a fact-finding commission into the sinking went into a new phase yesterday, as police said a body found last month in Suncheon, South Jeolla was confirmed to be Yoo, the 73-year-old de facto owner of the ferry’s operator, Cheonghaejin Marine Company.

The assemblymen have been clashing over whether to grant special powers to a newly launched fact-finding committee comprising themselves and the families of the victims.

The ruling party says they can’t give such a powerful right to the relatives of the victims, which includes the authority to raid sites and indict suspects.

They claimed they should trust the ongoing probe by the criminal justice system and await its outcome.

The opposition, however, said the new committee will need strong powers to get to the bottom of the accident, and the relatives have agreed.

With the blundering of the police and the prosecutors in the hunt for Yoo and identification of his remains, their arguments have grown stronger.

In Korea, indictment of a suspect is the exclusive right of the prosecution.

“Yoo Byung-eun died, and a piece of the truth has been buried now,” Park Young-sun, a NPAD leader, said at a party meeting yesterday. “Now figuring out the truth surrounding the Sewol ferry’s sinking has become even more important, and the reason for giving power to investigate the case [to the committee] has also become clear.”

Park blasted the “incompetence” of the Park Geun-hye administration, police and prosecution in the hunt for Yoo, who had been missing since May.

Woo Yoon-keun, another NPAD leader, agreed, saying “Rep. Kim Moo-sung [of the Saenuri Party] says giving such investigative rights to the committee could shake the entire system of criminal law. But there is nothing more important than lives of people.”

Park Beom-kye, a NPAD member said, “If the police concluded the body was Yoo’s, we should figure out to whom they reported the final conclusion [before making it public] and who directed their investigation and whether they reported it to the president or not.”

Ruling party members were still cautious yesterday about the matter of giving such strong powers to the committee.

Kim Hyun-sook, a spokeswoman of the ruling party, said at a press meeting, “Although the NPAD is still demanding giving investigative rights to the fact-finding committee, the Saenuri Party’s position is that we should be careful on a decision that could affect the entire system of the prosecution.”

Kim Moo-sung, chairman of the Saenuri Party, criticized the police for the extraordinary delay in figuring out they had Yoo’s body in their possession, but not the Park administration.

“It is the fault of the police that it could not confirm the identification of the body for the past 40 days,” Kim said. “Someone should take responsibility for it.”

When a reporter asked if he meant to criticize the Park administration, Kim said, “No, the problem is the police, not the [entire] government.”

Both parties yesterday resumed talks over the committee. Opposition lawmakers proposed giving it limited powers by appointing a special judicial police official for the committee, but the ruling party opposed the idea.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]





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