The bare face of prosecution reforms

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The bare face of prosecution reforms

We should have seen prosecutors raiding offices of the Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) and searching residences of its employees accused of having purchased land across Gwangmyeong and Siheung cities, Gyeonggi, ahead of their designation as the sites for a New Town project. The ledgers and files on land deals at the sites would have been poured over by now if the case had been handled by the prosecution. But the investigation is stuck in the hands of bureaucrats at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. The new National Investigation Headquarters installed in the police can only start an investigation based on the findings from the Land Ministry.

During the time, evidence could be destroyed. LH employees could discard their old smartphones, delete sensitive text messages, and collude to match testimonies. The delay in the investigation only helps buy time for the suspects to erase their criminal traces.

If the government and ruling Democratic Party (DP) are seriously intent on getting to the bottom of the wrongdoings of LH employees, they must hand the case over to skilled prosecutors. If the prosecution cannot spearhead the case under the revised criminal act, prosecutors could be dispatched to the special investigation unit Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun vowed to set up to lead the case. The Constitution authorizes only the prosecution to file for search and raid, arrest and indictment. If prosecutors cannot get involved, a speedy investigation is not possible. Unseasoned investigators could waver in filing for court warrants. But Prime Minister Chung said the special unit will be comprised of officers from the police, tax office and the Financial Services Commission, except for prosecutors.

The government cannot turn to the prosecution, as it would be more or less admitting to the need for prosecutors’ command in investigations. That would upset the hard-won prosecution reform drive. The campaign has been stalled due to the government’s standoff with Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. When the Blue House first drafted the outline for the changes in investigative authority in July last year, the prosecution was to be allowed to take on cases other than six major types of crimes when and if the top prosecutor gets approval from the justice minister. But former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae removed the exception provision.

Prosecution reforms under former Justice Ministers Cho Kuk and Choo were pursued randomly and unilaterally. Plans and designs were often amended. The sole consistency was relentless attacks on Yoon. The LH scandal has exposed all the contradictions in the prosecution reforms pursued by the government.
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