Cho unveils measures to reform prosecutionBefore revealing his intention to step down, Justice Minister Cho Kuk on Monday announced plans to put prosecution reform on the agenda at an upcoming cabinet meeting, reaffirming his drive to reform the investigative agency that critics claim abuses its power for political reasons.
“Korea’s power comes from the people. No power can stand above the people. An organizational culture that is for the people and that is people-centric should be established at the prosecution,” Cho told a press briefing at the Gwacheon Government Complex in southern Seoul.
The measures aim at balancing out the prosecution’s investigative power by leaving only three special investigative units that focus on corruption scandals involving high-ranking officials.
The remaining units will use the name “anti-corruption investigative unit” instead of the current “special investigative unit.”
The current name, which has been used for around 46 years, has fostered the notion that the special investigative unit is a more powerful division compared to other investigative units.
It has also been accused of being a hothouse for the prosecution’s alleged cozy ties with powerful politicians and conglomerates.
The measures also focus on protecting the rights of suspects and stakeholders probed by the prosecution. Some practices, such as public summoning and late-night questioning, have been criticized for infringing on the rights of suspects who have not proven to be guilty.
The move follows Sunday’s meeting at which key Blue House officials and ruling Democratic Party lawmakers agreed on the need to push for a swift judicial reform, lending support to the justice minister, who has been politically attacked by the conservative bloc.
Cho has faced issues from an ongoing probe over alleged corruption by his family.
His wife is suspected of forging a university award to help the couple’s daughter gain admission to medical school and of involvement in a dubious private equity fund investment.
His supporters and the liberal bloc, however, have voiced support for the judicial drive. Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered in southern Seoul to hold candlelight vigils demanding major reforms to the prosecution.
Cho specifically referred to the candlelight rallies as a symbol of the people’s yearning for judicial reform and pledged to stand by the move.
“I felt grave responsibility when I saw a news headline reading ‘The candlelight people just came out to fulfill their duties.’ The people showed through their action that the Justice Ministry should do what it should do and the prosecution should do what it should do,” he said.
“I will be the ‘springboard’ for the prosecution’s reform. [I hope] the people will keep watching so that this time the reform will surely succeed by stepping on me.”
Cho, who took office in early September, is widely seen as the key person to push President Moon Jae-in’s judicial reform drive.
Both Moon and Cho come from a legal background. The president has a long track record of working as a human and civil rights lawyer, while Cho is a law professor at Seoul National University.