Prosecutors will continue with corruption investigations at mutual savings banks to the end, despite the move by politicians to scrap the state prosecution’s central investigation unit, Prosecutor General Kim Joon-gyu said Monday.
“If a ship sails to a wrong destination, the captain should take the responsibility. There is no reason to sink the ship itself,” he told reporters, making clear his opposition to the controversial plan.
The presidential office sided with the prosecutors, describing it as “a matter that should be considered with caution.” The office will make its position clear to the ruling Grand National Party, presidential aides said.
Kim’s remarks came after an emergency meeting with about 40 senior prosecutors, who are demanding that parliamentarians withdraw their plan, in an escalating confrontation between prosecutors and politicians over judicial reform.
The National Assembly’s special committee on judicial reform agreed last week to abolish the key investigation unit of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, citing the unit’s vulnerability to political pressure as the main reason. It is part of a bigger reform planned for the nation’s judicial system, they said.
“The central investigation unit has been battling corruption” among the rich and the powerful, Kim said.
|Prosecutor General Kim Joon-gyu|
The unit mainly deals with high-profile cases involving politicians or other influential figures. Past cases had something to do with illegal political funds involving former presidents as well as corruption at Samsung and other top business conglomerates.
Parliamentarians claim that such a role should be played by an independent counsel appointed by them, not by the unit under direct control of the prosecutor general, who is appointed by the president of Korea.
“Reforming the prosecution, which wields unchecked power (under the current judicial system), is a task that should not be delayed any longer,” said Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party.
The plan to do away with the central investigation unit has triggered harsh, organized protests from prosecutors with some in the unit calling the move “an open intervention” into a probe that is already underway.
The prosecutors are currently investigating alleged irregularities by Busan Mutual Savings Bank and other savings banks and have been zeroing-in on former and incumbent politicians suspected of taking bribes from the now-suspended banks in exchange for helping them avoid sanctions for their irregularities.
Han Chan-sik, a Supreme Prosecutors’ Office spokesperson, denied reports that the prosecutors stopped their probe into the savings banks in protest.
The prosecutors were expected to question Kim Jong-chang, former governor of the Financial Supervisory Service, over the weekend, but delayed his summons until after Monday’s emergency meeting. Kim faces allegations that he neglected duties as the top financial regulator in a bid to help the now-insolvent savings banks survive inspections.
“The investigation was never stopped. It is continuing today, which is an official holiday,” Han said. Public offices were closed for Memorial Day on Monday.
According to officials, the prosecution decided to push on with the investigation through to the completion, regardless of what organizational changes take place.
About 100 investigators, including prosecutors, are currently investigating various allegations surrounding the corruption-ridden Busan bank. So far, 28 people have been prosecuted in relation to the scandal.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)