Prosecutor general vows to fight DP's bill
The chief of the state prosecution service vowed to fight the ruling Democratic Party's bill stripping the prosecution of its remaining investigative powers, calling it a "direct violation of the Constitution" that would undermine the ability to punish criminals.
On Tuesday, the Democratic Party (DP) decided to push the bill and have it signed by outgoing President Moon Jae-in early next month.
“It would be a direct violation of the Constitution,” Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo told reporters. “If such a bill is passed, criminals would rejoice, while victims of crime and the public would be left with no place to turn to. [The bill] defies common sense.”
Since President Moon Jae-in took office in May 2017, his administration and ruling DP have pushed a series of so-called reforms to weaken the power of state-run agencies, particularly the prosecution service.
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, limiting the scope of investigations that can be conducted by prosecutors.
The prosecution reform bill would bring about the complete abolition of the prosecution’s remaining investigative powers, which critics say have been abused to conduct probes of political rivals or enemies of the party in power.
Speaking on a radio program Tuesday, DP Chairman Yun Ho-jung said the party aimed to use its super-majority of 172 seats in the 300-member National Assembly to pass the bill and have it promulgated into law at a Cabinet meeting scheduled for May 3, before the presidency is handed over to President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party (PPP).
The bill is the same as one Yoon criticized when he announced his resignation as prosecutor general in March 2021.
The PPP has accused the DP of pursuing prosecution reform to prevent investigations into its own members, including into a controversy surrounding official expenses filed by the DP’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and his wife Kim Hye-kyung.
With the PPP strongly opposed to the bill, Yoon is expected to veto the bill if it is passed after he is inaugurated.
In recent days, the prosecutor general has strongly protested the proposed bill, saying he would quit if it is passed.
Kim also said he will appeal to the National Assembly, the president and the Constitutional Court to stop the proposed reform bill.
Should the bill pass, the state prosecution service would be left with only the authority to prosecute.
The decision to go ahead with the bill by the DP’s lawmakers on Tuesday prompted another prosecutor to offer to quit in protest.
Lee Bok-hyeon of the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office wrote on the prosecution’s online bulletin board that he would quit if the bill passed, expressing his belief that probes into various crimes, including financial market irregularities and conflicts of interest by those in power, will lose institutional backing due to the bill.
“I believe this is desirable for no one,” he wrote.
Broader opposition within the prosecution service has arisen in the form of calls for a general convention of prosecutors nationwide to express the service’s opposition to the bill.
Regional prosecution offices in Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daejeon, Jeonju and Changwon have issued statements opposing the bill.
“We need prosecutors across the country to gather and raise awareness of how the [earlier] criminal prosecution reform bill created practical difficulties in the investigative process, and also what negative consequences the abolition of the prosecution’s investigative powers might have,” prosecutors from the Daejeon District Office said in another online post on the agency’s online bulletin.
“We need to discuss the danger that this bill might help cover up criminal activity, and how to come up with effective mechanisms to enhance our response to crime,” the writer added.
The last time prosecutors mobilized in defense of the agency was in November 2020, when Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae suspended Yoon as Prosecutor General on various charges, including non-compliance with an audit and undermining prosecutors’ political neutrality.
At the time of Yoon’s suspension, 18 regional district prosecutors’ offices rallied in his support and signed a statement denouncing the measure as illegal.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]