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Key prosecution unit’s fate hangs in the balance

The National Assembly and the prosecution are clashing as the latter has officially refused to abolish the controversial Central Investigation Department as requested by the parliamentary legislation reform committee.

The parliamentary committee demanded on Monday that the prosecution abolish the CID and submit a revised ordinance by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The prosecutor’s office, however, immediately struck back.

“The legislature should know better than to shut down a major investigation body which usually takes the lead in big corruption cases, especially those which may not be adopted by other departments,” said a prosecution official on Tuesday.

The history of the controversial CID goes back to 1961 when the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office decided that a special central body was needed to look into political crimes.

The organization has largely been characterized by its highly experienced officials and also by its stern investigation methods.

As it is under the direct control of the prosecutor-general, it is given a wider access to complicated political crime cases and is also regarded as the symbol of the prosecutorial authority.

One of the major accomplishments of the CID was its probe of the brother of former President Chun Doo-hwan for embezzlement and tax evasion in 1988, a move which no other organs dared make back then.

It was also the first body ever to arrest and charge a former president.

Former President Roh Tae-woo was arrested in 1995 for illegal funding and was sentenced to a 17-year jail term by the Supreme Court.

With this series of cases, the CID won itself a certain social prestige.

The highlight ― which also led to controversy ― was nevertheless the full-scale investigation of the family members and friends of the late President Roh Moo-hyun.

In 2008, the prosecutorial body arrested Roh Gun-pyeong, the elder brother of the former liberal president over corruption charges, which later escalated into an extensive scandal involving most of Roh’s close aides.

Their zealous steps were, however, taken aback by the suicide of the former president who jumped off a cliff in his hometown amid the ongoing investigation.

The CID was then largely blamed for colluding with the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration in pushing a politically motivated investigation against the late liberal president and prosecutorial leaders were thus forced to resign.

In addition to the legislation reform committee, opposition parties and liberal civic groups have also consistently demanded that the authoritative body be abolished, claiming that the CID can only be swayed by political aspirations.

“Because the CID moves under the direct orders of the prosecutor-general, it may only prioritize the cases which should act in his political favors,” said Rep. Kim Dong-cheol of the main opposition Democratic Party.

The prosecution, however, held on to its argument that a central investigation body is absolutely necessary to integrate other prosecutorial organs and grab command over extensive crime cases.

“The abolishment of the CID only means disarming the prosecution of its weapons to fight against corruption (involving socially leading figures),” the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office said through its spokesperson.

The Korean Bar Association, a representative lawyers’ body, also sided with the judicature on the issue.

“The CID has often been censured for abusing its prosecutorial powers, but has also been applauded for digging into sensitive political crimes,” said its official.

“It is our opinion that the department should be reorganized, improved, but by any means, maintained.”

Related debates are expected to continue over the parliamentary judicial committee meetings until the end of the month.

By Bae Hyun-jung (
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Korea Herald daum