On top of the prosecution

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On top of the prosecution

A revised bill on institutionalizing a new state agency with separate authority to investigate crimes of high-level government officials arrived at the general assembly for a vote through a bipartisan agreement between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and four minor opposition parties, but excluding the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. The DP expects the new agency to be launched by July next year. The finalized bill raises questions for what and whom the new agency is out to serve.

Under the final outline, the extra agency has the right to be informed by law enforcement offices of the prosecution and police about any criminal cases they encounter involving senior government employees. The bill allows the head of the agency to decide whether to take up the case or not. The ruling party says the design is to prevent any disorder and conflict among law enforcement offices.

The bill would give the special law enforcement agency full control over investigations into public employees and place it higher than the prosecution and the police. For instance, the cases on former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and allegations about the Blue House’s meddling in local election last year should be reported to the new agency and may have to be handed over to the new agency.

Yet the agency is not ensured of political neutrality and independence from political power. The original bill proposed that the president appoint the head of the agency after legislative consent and that an independent committee be established to review whether to make an indictment or not. But the two provisions were removed in the final outline. That places the new law enforcement agency under the influence of the president as he has the right to appoint the head of the new agency.

Even the lawmakers who designed the original draft expressed concerns about the possibility of the agency becoming outsized and falling under political sway, as well as defending against any threat to the ruling power. Besides, the president could seat someone loyal to the ruling camp and force the agency go after the opposition.

Prosecutorial reforms are aimed to rebalance the power of the prosecution. But the revised bill can end up setting up another powerful investigation agency on top of the prosecution. A reform may be discussed on the new agency a few years later. It does not make any sense for the push for the bill when the negative ramifications and vicious cycle are evident.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 26, Page 30

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