A critical contradictionHAN YOUNG-IK
The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
American series “Billions” is a white-collar crime drama about hedge fund founder Bobby Axelrod and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Chuck Rose investigating Axelrod. The motive is former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara who investigated and indicted SAC Capital founder Steve Cohen for insider trading charges in 2013. Bharara was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 2012 with the title, “This Man Is Busting Wall St.”
In Korea, the anti-corruption investigation department of the prosecution — formerly the special investigation department — has been in charge of large-scale financial crimes. The bill to take away prosecutors’ investigation rights to six crimes —involving corruption, economy, public servants, elections, defense industry and major disasters — is practically targeting the anti-corruption investigation department.
The anti-corruption department has continued to shrink. It was often at the center of the “political prosecutor” controversy as it overused its investigation power and launched targeted investigations. The conservative Park Geun-hye administration abolished the Central Investigation Department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, which was at the height of anti-corruption investigation. In the liberal Moon Jae-in administration, prosecutors came up with a self-reform plan to abolish special investigation departments at all prosecutors’ offices other than just three, including the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. They even changed the title to the anti-corruption investigation department.
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) is ready to clash with the prosecution to pass a bill aimed at depriving the prosecution of its right to investigate. But ironically, the heyday of the anti-corruption investigation department was in the early days of the Moon administration. The number of special investigation department prosecutors at the Seoul Central District Office was 25 in 2017 and 43 in 2018. It was ironic that President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol — then head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office — commanded investigations into “past evils” from the previous administrations. What ended the sweet relationship between the DP and the special investigation department was its probe of the family of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk in 2019.
The DP says it is the global standard to separate investigation and indictment. It argues that the prosecution should be stripped of its investigative power because it is hard to check on prosecutors if they have both investigative power and indictment power. But paradoxically, the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) established by the DP last year has both investigation and indictment powers. That’s not all. The CIO has the authority to forcibly transfer cases under investigation by the police and prosecutors. It is questionable whether the public would really accept the contradiction.