DP pushes on with bill to emasculate the prosecution
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) showed no signs of relenting on a controversial prosecution reform bill on Tuesday, despite an appearance by Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo at the National Assembly to tell lawmakers to kill the bill.
The DP opened a meeting of a subcommittee under the Legislation and Judiciary Committee at 2 p.m. on Tuesday to begin the legislative process for the controversial bill.
The meeting was attended by the prosecutor general, who expressed the need for alternative methods to change the prosecution.
“It is never appropriate to deal with bills that directly affect the lives, safety and property of the people and have a deep impact on the state's capabilities within two weeks,” Kim said in reference to the bill's proposal to strip the prosecution of its investigative powers. “It is not appropriate to prevent prosecutors from investigating without [preparing] alternative measures.”
Kim cited previous attempts to rein in the prosecution's ability to conduct investigations as a sign of the damage that could be wrought by the DP's bill.
“The Prosecutors' Office Act allows us to investigate serious crimes, but the scope of the prosecution's investigations was drastically reduced by presidential decree,” he said. “Once the [the decree] was implemented, probes were scattered according to the category of the crime, making it difficult to conduct proper investigations.”
Kim also expressed his belief that the DP's bill “is highly likely to be unconstitutional,” adding that the bill should be preceded by public hearings, opinion canvassing from “relevant organizations,” and that the “legislative process stipulated in the Constitution and the National Assembly Act should be observed.”
The ruling party did not issue a direct response to President Moon’s remarks the previous day that “the legislation of the National Assembly should also be for the people,” with lawmaker Kim Sung-hwan, who chairs the party’s policy planning committee, saying that the “atmosphere and tone within the party” regarding the need for a reform bill “has not changed.”
President Moon Jae-in, who met with the prosecutor general on Monday in response to the latter's attempt to resign, did not make any remarks at a Cabinet meeting on the same day, with the Blue House refusing to clarify its stance on the reform bill, calling the matter and its timing “up to the National Assembly.”
Kim, whose resignation was rejected by the president, said earlier Tuesday morning that ensuring fairness and neutrality of probes by the state prosecution service is possible through legislative measures other than the abolition of the agency's investigative power, and that he would be submitting alternative proposals to address the DP’s concerns over the agency’s powers.
Kim floated the idea of different legislative measures to fulfill reform of the state prosecution service without stripping the agency of its investigative powers.
“For example, the National Assembly can pass a bill to ensure fairness and impartiality in probes conducted by the prosecution,” Kim told reporters on his way to work at the Supreme Prosecutors Office in southern Seoul.
“Another option would be to require those in charge of probes, such as the prosecutor general and other high-ranking prosecutors, appear before lawmakers for questioning and submit documents,” he said.
The reform bill, which DP lawmakers agreed on April 12 to push through the National Assembly before the end of Moon’s term on May 9, is the same as one President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol criticized when he announced his resignation as prosecutor general in March 2021.
The 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.
Kim previously served as vice justice minister under the Moon administration, and was appointed prosecutor general to replace Yoon in June. His two-year term expires next May.
Observers say that the president could be trying to prevent a disagreement between the prosecution service and the DP from becoming a full-blown political crisis — potentially triggering the mass resignation of senior prosecutors — in the last weeks of his term.
After saying relatively little on the prosecution reform bill in the past week, Yoon’s transition team released a statement on Tuesday condemning the DP for trying to push the law through before the end of Moon’s term.
The transition team’s political and judiciary subcommittee expressed “deep concern” over the DP’s attempt to pass the bill before the new administration takes office.
The bill is “unconstitutional and unheard of even within the judiciary,” the statement said, arguing that harm from the bill “will fall solely upon the powerless people,” echoing Kim’s argument that depriving the prosecution of its remaining investigative powers is a move that would “only be welcomed by criminals.”
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]