Stop a reckless attemptThe ruling Democratic Party (DP) is attempting to railroad a bill to strip investigation authority from the prosecution before President Moon Jae-in’s term ends on May 9, stoking strong protests from the prosecution. The move has been opposed by prosecutors of the prosecution bureau of the Justice Ministry which assists Justice Minister Park Beom-gye, as well as senior pro-government prosecutors. The hastened push by the DP over a bill that is incongruous to the realities of investigations raises serious questions behind the move.
Under the goal of weakening the mighty powers of the prosecution, the government has divided investigative authority between the police and the prosecution, and set up the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO), which deals with crimes related to senior government employees. Instead, the government left only six criminal areas — corruption, economy, public officials, large disasters and defense projects — to the prosecution for investigation. Now the DP is out to hand over the remaining investigative powers in the six areas to a new agency that will be established soon to deal with serious crimes. The move is a part of its crusade to separate investigation from indictment.
The prosecution has finally made one voice. The prosecution bureau of the Justice Ministry said that shaking the criminal law foundation while the new law is just in the first year could inconvenience the people. The move was also protested by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office and the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office led by top prosecutors loyal to the government. A senior prosecutor said prosecutors had endured the disgrace under the name of prosecution reform and have now come to question whether the DP has any appreciation for the neutrality and independence of the prosecution.
The prosecution has brought about the extreme outcome. Some politically-motivated prosecutors had caused public distrust. Still, the bill proposed by first-term DP lawmakers to demoralize the prosecution cannot be right. The bill shaking the very foundation of the 70-year-old top law enforcement agency and the criminal justice system with disregard to opinions of experts and consensus for a more reasonable alternative cannot win democratic justice. The DP wants to remove the investigative authority from the prosecution before a new agency on serious crimes is launched. A vacuum in the justice system will be inevitable.
The move only raises suspicion of protecting figures of the Moon Jae-in government or defeated presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung from investigations by prosecutors. The prosecution has been renewing an investigation on allegations about blacklisting by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. If the top law enforcement agency loses the right to investigate, all the ongoing probes on the Energy Ministry and the Daejang-dong development scandal involving Lee will come to a stop. Before public sentiment worsens, the DP must stop its reckless campaign.