Prosecution power debate reignited ahead of Yoon's inauguration
Members of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and opposition People Power Party (PPP) are butting heads over the DP’s plan to strip the prosecution of its investigative power, a month before a former prosecutor general is inaugurated president.
“[The DP] is trying to completely deprive the prosecution of its investigation power, so that key figures in the DP including President Moon Jae-in, former presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and his wife would be immune from prosecutorial investigations,” said Kweon Seong-dong, PPP floor leader, in speaking with Yonhap News on Sunday.
“This is the first and foremost problem we must resolve,” he said.
With less than a month left until the ruling liberal administration is replaced by the conservative government led by President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, formerly the country’s prosecutor general, the prosecution reform has resurfaced as a hot potato between the two parties.
Since President Moon took office in May 2017, the administration and ruling party have pushed forward a series of reform measures to weaken the power of state-run agencies, particularly the prosecution. The DP at the end of 2020 rammed through a bill to establish the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) and give more power to the National Police Agency, despite protests by the opposition.
While Yoon has not called for complete abolition of the CIO like some PPP members had, he did call for an abolition of Article 24 of the CIO law, which grants the CIO authority to demand the prosecution and police hand over cases, as one of his key policies during the election campaign.
Yoon said the law could be problematic as it could enable the CIO to protect public figures from investigations, by taking away the investigative power of the prosecution and police.
Yoon, with nearly 30 years of experience in the prosecution, rose in popularity among conservatives after high-profile public battles with the Moon administration, including his investigation into corruption allegations on Cho Kuk, a top Blue House secretary nominated for Justice Minister in 2019, which ultimately led to his resignation.
The DP recently quickened its steps to complete its prosecution reform, refocusing on passing a bill to completely strip the prosecution of its investigative power — the same bill that Yoon had protested when he announced his resignation as prosecutor general in March 2021.
The Supreme Prosecutors' Office on Friday openly voiced objection to the bill in a statement, adding that Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo “deeply empathizes” with the concerns among many members of the prosecution against the bill.
Members of the DP lashed out against such statements from the prosecution.
“I am deeply concerned that the prosecution may mistakenly believe that it can rule over the National Assembly, only because the former prosecutor general will be next president,” said Hong Seo-yoon, the DP spokesperson representing the younger party members, in a written statement on Saturday.
DP floor spokesperson Lee Soo-jin on Friday criticized the Supreme Prosecutors' Office’s statement, calling it an attempt by the prosecution to “protect their self-interests.”
DP representatives also took to social media platforms to criticize the prosecution.
“The National Assembly should quickly process the law to normalize the prosecution,” wrote DP Rep. An Min-suk on his Facebook account on Saturday. “The Democratic Party has to really step on the accelerator if they want to pass the law before May 9.”
The DP has the majority in the National Assembly of nearly 60 percent of the 300 seats, and holds the majority in most of the Assembly committees where bills are first passed before they are voted on at the Assembly’s plenary sessions.
“If we have to face [the DP’s] dictatorial managements in the parliament as in the past, we will have no choice but to fight very hard,” said PPP’s Kweon in his interview with Yonhap.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]