Bill creating new agency passed

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Bill creating new agency passed

The National Assembly passed a bill Monday to create a new agency to investigate senior officials, a top item on President Moon Jae-in’s criminal justice reform agenda.

The bill, drafted by a Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker and revised by a Justice Party lawmaker, was passed by 160 votes. Of the 177 lawmakers who participated in the vote, 14 opposed it and three abstained.

The ruling DP vowed to cooperate with opposition lawmakers other than the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) to pass the new investigation agency plan. The DP has 129 lawmakers in the 295-member National Assembly, and it persuaded enough opposition lawmakers to secure more than a majority vote of 148.

A similar bill considered more conservative, drafted by a Bareunmirae Party lawmaker and backed by some LKP representatives, was voted down at the beginning of the session.

The new agency is the first organization allowed to take over some of the prosecution’s indictment powers. It will investigate crimes allegedly committed by top officials in the administration and judiciary ranging from the president to judges, prosecutors and lawmakers.

Creating a new investigation agency for senior officials was the top legislative priority for Moon. Ever since taking office in May 2017, Moon, his aides and the DP have tirelessly pushed the initiative - along with other attempts to weaken the prosecution’s powers.

The idea of a new agency investigating senior officials was first introduced in 2002 during the administration of former President Roh Moo-hyun, Moon’s ideological and political mentor.

It was finally realized after 17 years.

The National Assembly said earlier in the morning that a plenary session would open at 6 p.m. to vote on the two competing bills to create a new investigation agency. Around 6 p.m., lawmakers of the LKP entered the main hall and surrounded the seat of Speaker Moon Hee-sang to protest the vote. Moon invoked his right to restore order in the legislature, and the LKP lawmakers ended their protest and returned to their seats.

After Moon declared the opening of the session at 6:34 p.m., a LKP lawmaker and a DP lawmaker took turns to make remarks on whether they should hold a secret vote or cast signed ballots for the bills. The LKP wanted a secret vote, while the DP argued for a signed vote.

A vote took place to decide the voting method. It was decided that the vote would use the electronic system with signed ballots, and LKP lawmakers left the main hall to boycott the session.

The bill approved by the DP and its legislative allies is a progressive reform plan for the criminal justice system. It was first drafted by DP lawmaker Rep. Back Hye-ryun, designated as a fast-track item in April, and recently revised by Justice Party Rep. Youn So-ha.

Another bill, drafted by Rep. Kwon Eun-hee of Bareunmirae Party, was voted down yesterday. It was considered a more conservative version of Youn’s bill.

The biggest difference between them was who has indictment powers. Kwon’s bill said the new agency would have investigative powers, while the prosecution would keep the power to indict.

If the prosecution refused to make an indictment on a case investigated by the new agency, an indictment review panel, participated in by members of the public, would decide.

Youn’s bill stipulates that the new agency will have both investigation and indictment powers for cases against judges, prosecutors and senior police officers. The prosecution will hold indictment powers for other civil servants covered by the law.

Kwon also proposed in her bill that only alleged corruption was to be investigated. Youn’s bill allows a wider scope of probes.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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