Don’t bury heads in the sand

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Don’t bury heads in the sand

President Moon Jae-in has a tendency not to take responsibility when he should. A 70-minute meeting he had with Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo on Tuesday was no exception. After refusing to accept Kim’s request for a meeting for a while, Moon met with him. Coincidently, Tuesday was the day when the ruling Democratic Party (DP) submitted two bills aimed at entirely stripping the prosecution of its investigation authority in a crusade for prosecution reform to the National Assembly.

The remarks the president made in that meeting were quite ambiguous. “People trust the prosecution’s capability to investigate, but they also doubt fairness in its probes,” he said. Then he added, “Any reforms should be conducted for the people’s sake regardless of positions of the prosecution and police. That applies to legislation by lawmakers, too.” While the first comment seems to support the bills, the second sounds like a demand for moderation from DP legislators.

Except for hard-line DP lawmakers and their supporters, the public generally oppose the proposed deprivation of prosecutorial authority to investigate and hand all of them over to the police. As seen in an emergency meeting on Tuesday of junior prosecutors for the first time since 2003, the prosecution’s resistance to the bill is strong, not to mention growing disgruntlements from police officers about more work for them if they have exclusive authority to investigate criminal cases. Even the judiciary expressed concerns about negative effects expected in the course of trials.

The buck stops in the Blue House. It was President Moon who triggered much confusion on the frontline by redistributing investigation authority between the prosecution and the police last year. Led by former Justice Minister Cho Kuk in early 2020, the initiative was railroaded through the legislature by the DP based on the “will of the presidential office.” At that time, Moon presented three principles to help settle the new criminal system — striking a balance between law enforcement agencies and reestablishing them by removing the rigid boundaries between investigation and indictment and yet not reducing the total amount of investigation capacity of the country.

If that’s the case, the president must oppose the bills aimed to remove prosecutors from investigating criminal cases. Otherwise, it will only give excessive power to the police, free them from the prosecution’s control and weaken the nation’s investigative power. All this confusion can only be cleared when the president makes clear his intention to veto the bill. If Moon sticks with his equivocal attitude, that translates into his tacit approval of the controversial bills.

If Moon endorses the bills, he must take responsibility for all the chaos later.
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