Troubling trendsEven pro-government Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo is resisting the Moon Jae-in administration’s attempt to diminish the independence of the prosecution. On Tuesday, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office squarely opposed Justice Minister Park Beom-kye’s reckless plan to revamp the organization of the top law enforcement agency, as it translates into a move aimed at “defaming the neutrality of the prosecution.” Not satisfied with an earlier plan to restrict the prosecution’s direct investigation to six major crimes including election fraud, the controversial justice minister would obligate prosecutors dealing with criminal cases to get approval from a prosecutor general and justice minister before they embark on such investigations.
That constitutes a brazen violation of Article 8 of the Prosecution Act, which stipulates a justice minister only command and oversee a prosecutor general when it comes to individual cases. The article aims to minimize a justice minister’s intervention in prosecutors’ investigations and ensure the integrity of the top law enforcement agency. Nevertheless, Park wants prosecutors to get permission from him.
After the Moon administration pushed for revolutionary changes in the current investigation system of the prosecution, prosecutors have lost many investigative rights. Those rights were handed over to the police, but doubts are being raised over the police’s will and ability to bring to justice the high and the mighty. The new Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) is already being criticized for its biased probe into abuse of power by top government officials. If the prosecution’s rights to direct investigations fall under the justice minister under such circumstances, the prosecution’s checks on the powers that be will be effectively neutralized.
When he was a lawmaker, Justice Minister Park was accused of throttling an opposition lawmaker in a scuffle before the ruling Democratic Party put a bill on launching the CIO on the fast track. His predecessor Choo Mi-ae was investigated for special treatment her son received after a vacation during his military service. The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office dismissed the case, but the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office kicked off an investigation. The head of the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office was promoted in the latest reshuffle of the prosecution, but the head of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office left the prosecution.
Former justice ministers did not try to safeguard the political neutrality of the prosecution. Everyone knows what will happen after the current justice minister forces prosecutors to get approval from him before they start investigations.
Justice Minister Park’s plan to let prosecutors get permission from a prosecutor general is also ill-intended. Lee Wan-kyu, a former prosecutor and expert in criminal law, pointed out that if a prosecutor general disapprove prosecutors’ investigation, that can constitute “abuse of power.” The government must stop this regression of democracy.