Reps must choose from 2 bills for new agency

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Reps must choose from 2 bills for new agency

Opposition lawmakers disagreeing with the ruling Democratic Party’s (DP) bill for a new independent investigation agency on Sunday submitted their own watered-down version in an effort to siphon off support ahead of an expected vote on the DP’s bill at the National Assembly today.

As a filibuster on the agency bill neared an end with the closure of a plenary session early Sunday morning, Rep. Kwon Eun-hee of the Bareunmirae Party (BP) submitted an alternative bill to win the approval of 30 lawmakers of her own party and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP).

The proposal to create a new independent investigation unit focusing on crimes committed by high-level officials is chief among a set of prosecutorial reform bills that the DP and its minor party allies hope to pass into law starting on Monday. Two other reform bills, which propose to adjust powers between the state prosecution service and the police, are set to be voted on in two subsequent sessions through Jan. 6, according to the DP’s plan.

According to DP Rep. Park Ju-min, one of the chief architects of the bills, the DP’s proposal for the new agency stipulates it be given the authority to launch investigations and indict a wide range of high-ranking officials - including judges, prosecutors and top police cadres - breaking the monopoly that state prosecutors have over issuing indictments and controlling investigations.

Attempts to create the new agency address longstanding grievances from experts and officials alike about the excessive power of state prosecutors, who have been accused in innumerable instances of wielding their authority to meddle in politics and clamp down on those whose agendas clash with their own.

The version submitted by Rep. Kwon, who is a former police officer, differs from the DP proposal in that it seeks to constrain the new agency by making it beholden to a citizens’ panel to seek indictments, and narrowing the scope of its investigations to corruption-related cases.

While Kwon argued her bill “complies with the fundamental ideology underpinning a liberal democratic governing structure,” some analysts note the plan would effectively reduce the new agency to an institution incapable of challenging the state prosecution service, which is why it had the endorsement of almost a dozen LKP lawmakers.

The LKP is fiercely opposed to prosecutorial reform, accusing the Moon Jae-in administration of trying to build a pro-government investigative body that can be used to clamp down on political rivals. On Thursday, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office came out openly against the DP reform plans, saying the new agency presented “very dangerous” implications to the political neutrality of law enforcement.

To derail the new agency bill due for a vote on Monday, the LKP focused its efforts over the weekend to chisel down the number of votes the DP would need to pass its proposals in a plenary session. LKP floor leader Rep. Shim Jae-cheol vowed the coalition of so-called “four-plus-one” parties led by the DP would ultimately fail due to “cooperation between the LKP and the prosecution.”

With 129 seats of its own, the DP believes its plan has support of a majority in the National Assembly, including six lawmakers from the Justice Party, five lawmakers from the Party for Democracy and Peace, and eight seats from a splinter group composed of Jeolla region lawmakers. A portion of the Bareunmirae Party loyal to its chairman Sohn Hak-kyu also are members of the coalition, though three lawmakers of this group came out against the reform bill on Sunday.

With the LKP arguing there were several other dissenting minor party lawmakers in the coalition, the three BP representatives’ opposition to the reform bill stoked concern in the DP that it may lack the 148 votes necessary to pass the initiative.

In a press conference Sunday, DP floor leader Rep. Lee In-young said there was no cause for alarm since the bills already had 156 signatories when it was submitted ahead of the filibuster on Friday.

“Whatever happens, we will enact prosecutorial reforms in a procedure that complies with parliamentary law,” Lee said. “If we cannot realize prosecutorial reform this time, the Republic of Korea will become a republic of prosecutors, where the prosecutor general becomes its president.”

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

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