NATIONAL

[News Focus] Moon’s plan for new investigative body hits snag

By Bak Se-hwan
  • Published : Nov 21, 2017 - 19:32
  • Updated : Nov 21, 2017 - 19:32
The Moon Jae-in administration’s plan to establish a new investigative entity with the authority to dig into corruption and irregularities of the prosecution, long considered virtually untouchable, along with a few other powerful state organs, has hit a major snag even before it got started. 

Members of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee on Tuesday discuss bills related to the creation of the new independent probe body. Yonhap

On Tuesday at the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, lawmakers from the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party refused to discuss any bills related to the creation of the new body, casting a dark cloud over the plan.

It was a day after Cheong Wa Dae, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and Justice Ministry, after a government-party policy coordination meeting, announced a plan to push for legislation of relevant laws within the current parliamentary session.

Rep. Kim Jin-tae, one of six Liberty Korea Party representatives in the 17-strong committee, said, “It is our party’s official platform to reject the idea. We will not participate in any discussion on this matter.”

The ruling party controls seven seats in the committee, with the remaining divided by two lawmakers from the centrist People’s Party and two from a group that is not a parliamentary negotiation bloc.

“It will be like giving a new blade to a regime that likes to wield a knife against political opponents,” he said.

Moon, elected to office in a by-election in May following the ouster of embattled President Park Geun-hye, has vowed to eradicate “accumulated evils” of the society. High-profile corruption investigations followed, implicating mostly figures from the past two conservative regimes.

In the latest such probe by the prosecution, the home and office of the Liberty Korea Party’s Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan, who served as the vice prime minister and finance minister under Park, were raided Monday on allegations he had received illicit funds from the National Intelligence Service.

Liberty Korea Party floor leader Chung Woo-taik also warned at a party meeting Tuesday that the envisioned entity runs the critical risk of being used as a “political tool” for the president, as its special prosecutors can target opposition politicians.

Hong Joon-pyo, the party leader, echoed the view, labeling the Moon administration as “obsessed with political revenge.”

Several bills in relation to the new body are pending at the parliament.

One of those submitted by the ruling party’s Rep. Park Beom-kye envisions the body as having up to 20 special prosecutors with the authority to investigate former and current presidents, court justices, prosecutors and lawmakers.

In Monday’s meeting with government officials and lawmakers, Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, said the new body, when introduced, will be “a symbol of the reform of the prosecution” that has long been accused of wielding too much power and being politically skewed.

The establishment of the anti-corruption body is one of the key initiatives put forward by President Moon Jae-in who was elected on pledges to stamp out graft and irregularities among top government officials, lawmakers and, often, prosecutors themselves.

State prosecutors have often been criticized for their extensive power granting them the exclusive right to indict criminals. Critics say it is crucial to prevent them from abusing their own authority while ensuring the body’s independence from political power.

Moon’s reform drive is a reminder of public distrust within the country’s society, politics and the law enforcement body almost a year after a massive influence-peddling scandal brought down former President Park Geun-hye and her closest allies in March.

Public frustration has been mounting especially over the prosecution’s several failures earlier this year to arrest and detain Park’s former prosecutor-turned-presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo, despite evidence linking him to her scandal.

Woo, dubbed the “emperor” for his extensive grip on power while in office from early 2015 until his resignation the following year, is accused of abusing his power to purge officials uncooperative with Park and her confidante Choi Soon-sil, and of neglecting his duty to monitor irregularities surrounding the presidential office.

Some critics and left-wing lawmakers also see the prosecution as directly responsible for late President Roh Moo-hyun’s suicide in 2009 following a criminal inquiry under conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who served as president from 2008 to 2013. They say the inquiry was set up to purposely humiliate the progressive Roh after he stepped down.

Current President Moon served as Roh’s chief of staff.

In line with calls to disperse prosecutorial power, the liberal Moon administration is now pushing to change the enforcement body’s monopolistic position, while empowering police, who currently conduct investigations only under the prosecution’s supervision and without indictment authority.

By Bak Se-hwan (sh@heraldcorp.com)