Justice Minister tries setting up new probe teams
The Justice Ministry appears to be trying to create a joint investigative division involving regional prosecutors' offices under the direction of new Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon, according to officials Monday.
The idea of starting specialized investigative teams at 11 regional prosecutors’ offices, each dedicated to probing a particular category of crime in cooperation with the relevant government agency, comes as the state prosecution service is set to lose its ability to initiate probes into most crimes except for corruption and violations of the Economic Crimes Act in September.
According to a prosecution service official who spoke on condition of anonymity to the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday, each of the 11 designated regional prosecutors’ office are expected to report how many prosecutors and investigators they can allocate for specialized investigations, on the basis of which the prosecution service will determine the viability of forming a joint investigative division.
“As I understand it, each office is actively preparing to submit a report as this is an initiative being directly overseen by Justice Minister Han,” the official said.
If formed, a prosecution-led joint investigative division is expected to draw on the pre-existing specializations and strengths of the regional offices.
Starting with the March 2015 designation of the Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office as the hub for investigations into food safety issues, the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office has taken the lead on financial crimes while the Daejeon office has taken on patent violations.
Other categories of crimes that are overseen by designated regional prosecutors’ offices include marine shipping and safety violations, cybercrimes, tax evasion and environmental pollution.
The move by the Justice Minister also appears to target perceived weaknesses in the state’s investigative abilities.
Following his order last week reinstating the financial and securities crime investigation team at the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office, Han ordered the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office to submit a report exploring the creation of an international crime investigation team.
The reinstated financial crimes unit has already been tasked to investigate the recent collapse of Terraform Labs' main cryptocurrencies and the methods by which the company attracted investors.
Legal experts previously expressed concerns that the ability of the state prosecution service to probe highly specialized categories of crime had been undermined by the administration of former President Moon Jae-in, which sought to strip the prosecution of its investigative powers and give them to the National Police Agency and the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials, which was created in 2021.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]