Two senior prosecutors resign

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Two senior prosecutors resign

Senior prosecutors resigned Tuesday after the Ministry of Justice and the ruling party carried out measures to weaken the prosecution’s investigative powers.

Kim Jong-oh, head of the tax crime investigation department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, was just one senior prosecutor who expressed his intention to leave. He was heading an investigation into a company linked to suspected financial crimes committed by a private equity fund of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family.

Kim’s resignation came after the Justice Ministry announced a major reorganization of the prosecution. The ministry said 13 key investigation departments, including Kim’s, will be shut down and those departments will be revamped to undertake new tasks.

According to the plan, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office’s four anticorruption investigation departments will be reduced to two.

Of the 13 public security investigation departments at 11 district prosecution offices, eight departments in seven offices will survive. Those departments are in charge of investigating election law violations.

Earlier in the day, Kim Woong, a senior prosecutor and a professor of the Institute of Justice, tendered his resignation. Kim used to be in charge of the countermeasures against the administration’s campaign to weaken the prosecution’s investigative powers. However, he was demoted last summer to teach at the ministry’s research institute.

Kim did not hesitate to attack the Moon administration for curtailing the prosecution’s investigative powers. “It suddenly wants to reduce direct investigations by the prosecutors after it became the target of probes,” Kim wrote. “It is lying to the people that it is pushing forward a prosecutorial reform, but its eventual destination is a police state.”

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and its legislative allies also railroaded on Monday a package of bills to redistribute investigative authority between the prosecution and police, completing the last step of President Moon Jae-in’s project to whittle away power from state prosecutors.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) boycotted the voting.

Last year, the DP drafted the bills to revise the Criminal Procedure Act and the Prosecutors’ Office Act. Opposition parties, except the LKP, later joined the ruling party’s legislative alliance and incorporated their opinions to those bills.

The passage of two contentious bills completed a years-long campaign by the administration and the DP to weaken the prosecution’s powers. Another contentious project of creating a new investigation agency for senior public servants and delegating some of the prosecution’s exclusive indictment powers to it was accomplished when the DP and its allies rammed the bill through the National Assembly on Dec. 30, 2019.

According to the revisions, the prosecution’s hierarchical authority to command the police in an investigation will be redefined as a more horizontal, cooperative relationship. The police will be given the right to initiate a primary investigation and conclude the case.

Based on that change, the police, after its primary investigation, will only hand over a case that requires an indictment to the prosecution, while shelving cases that it decides to dismiss.

The police are still required to inform the prosecution about why it concluded that a case does not require an indictment. A written letter of its reasons to drop the case and other relevant documents and evidence must be handed over to the prosecution. The prosecution will have 90 days to review the documents. If the prosecution requests a reinvestigation, the police must follow.

The police also need to inform the petitioners why it decided that a case does not require an indictment. If the petitioners disagree, the police have to send the case to the prosecution.

Prosecutors’ powers to directly conduct an investigation were also largely curtailed. The prosecution is only allowed to launch an investigation for high-profile allegations concerning corruption, the economy, civil servants, elections and the defense industry.

The prosecution can also conduct direct investigations into major cases designated by the president such as a mass casualty disaster and crimes involving members of the police.

The changed laws won’t take effect immediately. The president will issue an executive order within six months to one year after the revisions are publicly announced.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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