PPP distances itself from prosecution bill compromise
“Members of the supreme council [of the PPP] agreed today that parts of the bipartisan compromise on the bill, especially regarding public elections, illegalities committed during public election and crimes by public officials, were found to be incomplete, and need further bipartisan discussions,” Lee Jun-seok, PPP chairman, told the press after a PPP supreme council meeting on Monday.
Floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the PPP reached a compromise on a bill that would strip the prosecution of its investigative powers last Friday. The bill is a major goal of the waning days of the Moon Jae-in administration. On May 10, Moon will surrender power to president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.
The original DP bill called for the stripping of prosecutors’ investigative powers in all six categories of crimes it is allowed to investigate: corruption, the economy, public servants, elections, the defense industry and major disasters.
The prosecution was stripped of other investigative powers when the National Assembly passed an amendment to the Public Prosecutor’s Office Act in January 2020. That’s when the prosecution’s investigative rights were reduced to six major crimes.
On Friday, the ruling DP and opposition PPP compromised on the bill.
The compromise was announced by DP and PPP floor leaders and National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seung on Friday.
Prosecutors were to be allowed temporarily to keep investigating two types of major crimes: corruption and economic crimes.
The state prosecution service's investigative powers would eventually be abolished, however, pending the formation of a major criminal investigative agency like the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other investigative agencies, whose powers were yet to be determined.
DP leaders fumed Monday at the PPP’s attempts to pull out of the agreement.
“Even before the ink on the compromise dried, some members of the PPP are denying the agreement,” said DP Rep. Yun Ho-jung, who chairs an interim committee to address policy coordination before the inauguration of the next administration.
“The DP will never tolerate any attempt to break the compromise. If the PPP breaks the agreement, the DP will pass its version of the bill.”
The DP has 171 seats out of 300, or 57 percent of the total in the Assembly, a so-called super-majority.
Weakening the prosecution has been a pet project of the Moon government and the ruling DP.
One of the major criticisms lobbed against the state prosecution service by the ruling party is that it uses its investigative powers to conduct probes of political rivals.
The establishment of an agency to inherit investigative powers raises questions about whether the powers of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials (CIO) and the anti-graft team currently operating under the police's National Investigation Headquarters should be transferred to the new agency.
Meanwhile, former Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo came under fire over the weekend for allegations that he knew in advance about the compromise.
Kim met with Assembly Speaker Park on Thursday. The next day, Park met with the ruling and opposition floor leaders and announced their compromise on the bill.
Kim resigned as prosecutor general on the same day.
“I had not known about the intentions at the National Assembly when I was meeting with Park,” Kim told the press during a briefing Monday at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in southern Seoul. “The day after I met Park, I saw on the news that Park had suggested the ruling and opposition leaders consider a compromise on the bill. I found out with the rest of the public when news reports were released.”
Kim was accused of having known all along about the lawmakers’ plans to reach a compromise because of his comments prior to the DP-PPP announcement on Friday afternoon.
“Maybe we don’t need to have certain investigative powers if they’re not wanted by the people and members of the Assembly,” Kim told the press on Friday morning.
Kim even commented that “discussions on stripping the prosecution of its investigative powers are not completely out of the picture,” a day after a meeting with Moon on April 18.
The country's top prosecutors responded to the compromise bill by submitting their resignations en masse on Friday.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]