The parliamentary move to scrap the state prosecution’s elite investigation unit faces a murky outlook after the presidential office sided with prosecutors Monday to oppose plans to scrap it.
The presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae threw its weight behind Prosecutor General Kim Joon-gyu who argued that removing of the Central Investigation Department at the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office would amount to disarming the prosecution’s battles against corruption among the rich and powerful.
“The unit has been tackling the massive ills of our society,” the chief prosecutor said. “I cannot accept a future situation where small corruption cases are punished while big ones are not,” he said.
Last week, the National Assembly’s special committee on judicial reform agreed to abolish it, 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, committee members said.
The central investigation department has led most of the highest-profile cases that rocked the country, since its inception in 1981.
In 1988, it dug into the corruption in the previous administration led by President Chun Doo-hwan, pressing charges against Chun’s brother and some of the president’s key aides, in a move that no organs dared to make back then.
In 1995, the unit arrested former President Roh Tae-woo on charges of raising illegal political funds. He was sentenced to a 17-year jail term. It was the first time that a former president was prosecuted.
In a 2003 probe into the “cash-for-summit” scandal, prosecutors dug into the secret payment by the Kim Dae-jung administration to North Korea to secure a landmark summit between the two Koreas in 2000. Chung Mong-hun, chairman of Hyundai Asan, a company which was used as a conduit for the money transfer, committed suicide, in the middle of the probe.
Two years later, the public prosecutors pressed charges against Kim Woo-choong, the founder and chairman of now-defunct Daewoo Group, which was found to have cooked its books and committed other wrongdoings.
Prosecution officials say only the central investigation unit could have led such a large-scale investigation, as it can mobilize the resources required, under direct control of the prosecutor general.
Cheong Wa Dae officials also backed the view, saying there is no realistic alternative to the unit.
Lawmakers supporting the proposal to scrap the unit, however, claim that the CID can and should be substituted by a more politically independent organ, such as a special counsel appointed by them or by an independent agency to be created outside the prosecution.
The unit, they say, is the reason the prosecution has been denigrated by critics as a ”maiden to power,” because its probes into political corruption scandals typically took place after a change in regime, targeting the former presidents.
In one of the most controversial cases, the unit led a probe into corruption of President Roh Moo-hyun, which led the former leader to jump to his death in 2009.
Critics blamed the prosecution for his suicide, saying that the probe was politically motivated and carried out in a way to humiliate Roh, who had prided himself on being a clean politician.
Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of main opposition Democratic Party, reiterated Tuesday the party’s determination to push ahead with the judicial reform plan.
“People know that the prosecution wields unchecked power,” he said, denouncing the prosecutors for attempting to preserve their vested rights and the Lee Myung-bak administration for trying to continue using the prosecution for its political benefits.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org