Prosecution slams DP’s proposal for reform bill

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Prosecution slams DP’s proposal for reform bill

The state prosecution service on Thursday publicly opposed the ruling Democratic Party’s (DP) bill proposing to create an independent investigation unit focusing on crimes committed by high-level officials, saying it will not kowtow to the new agency.

In a public statement released to the press, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO) cited one section in the bill as “seriously toxic,” regarding the clause mandating state prosecutors to report all criminal evidence they find in investigations pertaining to high-ranking civil servants to the new agency.

Citing that such a practice could cause information to be leaked to the Blue House or ruling party, the SPO statement said there was “no reason” to share such evidence and that given the new agency was not formally superior to the prosecution, each of the country’s law enforcement institutions - the police, prosecution and new agency - “should serve their own role within the framework of the law.”

If prosecutors and the police are forced to report to the new agency as soon as they begin criminal investigations, the SPO said, then the new agency will be able to pick and choose cases in a way that can “damage the speed and efficiency of the probe, as well as the human rights of those involved, leaving to overall injury to the capacity for anticorruption investigations.”

Particularly concerning are the “very dangerous” implications presented by the bill to the political neutrality of the new agency, since the current contours of the bill dictate that the president and ruling party intervene in the appointment of the new agency’s chief and investigators, the SPO said.

These vocal objections are the first time the state prosecution service has directly come out against the bill on the new investigation agency, which is chief among a set of prosecutorial reform bills about to be submitted to a vote by the DP and its four minor allies within the next few days.

According to DP Rep. Park Ju-min, one of the chief architects behind the bills, the new agency will be bestowed with the authority to launch investigations and indict a wide range of high-ranking officials - including judges, prosecutors and top police cadres, thus breaking the monopoly that state prosecutors had over issuing indictments and controlling investigations. If the scope of their investigations overlap, then the prosecution must hand over all evidence they have to the new agency upon the latter’s request.

The head of this new agency will be appointed by the president from two candidates recommended by a committee of seven figures that include the justice minister and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. To guarantee the agency’s political neutrality, the bill also stipulates that neither the president nor any civil servants of the Blue House may interfere with the activities of the agency.

According to a source close to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo, the country’s top prosecutor felt “completely betrayed” by the DP’s and its allies’ final draft of the reform bills, voicing to his lieutenants in the prosecution service that he could not accept the propositions to overhaul the institution.

Yoon’s alleged demurral stands in contrast to his words from his confirmation hearing in July, when he told lawmakers he would “respect the conclusions of the National Assembly” regarding the fast-tracked reform bills.

Senior prosecutors too are up in arms over the bill and the new agency, which one senior prosecutor said represented the ruling party’s attempt to subdue law enforcement in the country to its whims by deflating prosecutors’ powers.

By nature, the new agency’s creation addresses longstanding grievances from experts and officials alike about the excessive powers of state prosecutors, who have been accused in innumerable instances of wielding their authority to unduly meddle in politics and clamp down on those whose agendas clash with their own.

Some critics point out that the prosecution’s suspicions about the new agency’s neutrality are founded in its own inability to uphold objectivity in law enforcement, demonstrated by its discriminate approach when it comes to investigating one of their own. Korea’s prosecutors have been accused of dismissing charges or ending investigations aimed at fellow prosecutors, both current and former, as well as top-ranking political figures in an effort to preserve a clientelist network that experts have said lies at the heart of the state prosecution service.

According to a Ministry of Justice report submitted to the DP, of the 9,903 criminal cases from 2014 to 2018 where the suspect was a fellow prosecutor, indictments were filed in only 14 of them, or less than 0.14 percent. By comparison, in criminal cases involving ordinary citizens, prosecutors tend to file charges around 34.8 percent of the time.

Demolishing the institution’s monopoly over political investigations by redistributing its authorities to a new agency and the police is designed to introduce a system of checks and balances among the country’s law enforcement bodies, though opponents of the reforms say the new agency may reign supreme among the three.

Sources within the prosecution say Yoon may follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and hold a press conference in the next few days to air his discontent with the bills but added that concerns he may be painted as an opponent to reform itself are holding him back.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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