The CIO in controversyIt has been nearly a year since the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) launched. But it has done more harm than good so far. Although it was founded as an independent law enforcement agency, its actions have been constantly suspected of political bias over the year. After it was revealed to have accessed hundreds of phone records of journalists and opposition lawmakers, the office has been under fire for infringing on human rights by spying on civilians.
Its first-year performance has been pitiful. Of 24 cases it investigated, the CIO has completed just one. Its first case was on allegation of favoritism in hiring by Seoul education superintendent Cho Hee-yeon. The prosecution indicted Cho last Friday, but it did not accept most findings by the CIO.
Kim Jin-wook, the first CIO chief, vowed to make the institution civilian-friendly and reputable. But the agency has done the opposite by recklessly examining phone records of the opposition People Power Party (PPP) floor leader and key figures of its presidential election camp, as well as journalists, lawyers and civic groups. The CIO has looked into phone conversations of reporters critical of the agency and their families. Courts also should be held accountable for granting the warrants as the CIO wanted.
Its political neutrality has been seriously doubted. It has been investigating four cases related to Yoon Suk-yeol, PPP presidential candidate, for allegedly orchestrating attacks on political figures close to the ruling power through the PPP while Yoon served as prosecutor general. The CIO has not made any progress in its investigations defying political neutrality. Its arrest warrants for Son Jun-sung — a prosecutor accused of handing over documents on the figures close to the government to the PPP — were repeatedly denied by a court.
While summoning Lee Seong-yun — the controversial head of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office — for questioning, the CIO sent its official car to pick him up. Its role and usefulness also are in question. Even Justice Minister Park Beom-kye has expressed frustration over the CIO. In a television interview, the minister admitted that the agency “has failed to meet up to the expectations of the people” and that he also was disappointed.
The CIO is sneered at for its zero achievements and terrorizing ways by spying on civilians without any sense of political neutrality. Without an overhaul, the CIO will lose its raison d’être.