Protecting the powers that be

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Protecting the powers that be

 Prosecutors are strongly opposing Justice Minister Park Beom-kye’s plan to revamp the organization of the top law enforcement agency. They suspect the move is aimed at controlling the prosecution’s rights to directly investigate sensitive cases of corruption and abuse of power by the government in the final year of President Moon Jae-in’s term. The Blue House and the Justice Ministry are suspected of trying to restrict the prosecution’s rights to probe six major crimes after facing growing public antipathy to their attempt to completely deprive the prosecution of its investigative rights by pushing for the establishment of a separate investigation agency devoted to probing six major types of crimes, including corruption and election fraud.

A draft of the revamp plan the Justice Ministry sent to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office last Friday reveals the government’s intention to put the brakes on the prosecution’s investigation of the powers that be. For instance, the plan only allows the anti-corruption department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office — currently headed by Lee Sung-yoon, a pro-government prosecutor — to start investigations into the six major crimes. As a result, the criminal investigation department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office cannot probe the six crimes if the reorganization plan gets legislative approval.

In that case, local prosecutors cannot look into grave crimes, including corruption in officialdom, even if they detected reliable evidence in the region under their jurisdiction. That’s not all. Even if the opposition or a civic group makes a complaint with the prosecution, prosecutors cannot start investigations without approval from the prosecutor general or justice minister. What active powers would comply with investigations targeting them? After former Vice Justice Minister Kim Oh-soo, an avid pro-Moon prosecutor, was nominated prosecutor general, concerns are deepening that he would not approve investigations of the incumbent power once he takes the helm of the top law enforcement agency.

The reason behind the Justice Ministry’s excessive action is obvious. The criminal department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has been probing suspicions that the Blue House was involved in the illegitimate travel ban on former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui. The criminal department of the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office indicted Lee Sung-yoon, the head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, for abuse of power in the case. The Daejeon and Jeonju District Prosecutors’ Offices also have been digging into the suspicious cases of the early shutdown of the Wolseong 1 reactor and a ruling party lawmaker’s alleged embezzlement.

The Moon administration has been bent on restricting the prosecution’s rights to investigate from the start. That has triggered many side effects, including the half-baked investigation by the police into the LH employees’ land speculation scandal and the substandard investigation by the prosecution into rampant insider trading of stock after former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae removed a joint securities crimes investigation team from the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office in January.

The Justice Ministry cites the need to limit the prosecution’s investigative rights as the reason for the revamp. But the ministry must pay heed to the criticism that it just wants to block the prosecution’s investigation of government corruption. Prosecutors must be able to dig up dirt on corruption in officialdom wherever it takes place.

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