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Top prosecutor reiterates opposition to investigative rights reform

Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il on Thursday reiterated his opposition to bills on redistributing investigative powers between the prosecution and police, saying it runs counter to the principles of democracy.


At a press briefing, he also vowed efforts to overhaul the prosecution and meet public expectations for curbing its authority amid long-held criticism that the law enforcement agency wields too much power.

“The bills designated as fast-track proposals do not meet the democratic principles of the criminal justice system and there are concerns about possible loopholes in protecting basic rights,” Moon said.

The bills were put forward at the National Assembly to revamp the prosecution’s investigative rights and give the police greater autonomy to conduct probes in the wake of an intensifying power struggle between the prosecution and police.

The ruling Democratic Party and three minor opposition parties fast-tracked the bills in late April despite strong protests by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

The most contentious points of the bills concern allowing the police to open and close cases without the prosecution’s approval.

The top prosecutor criticized the parliamentary decision, expressing concerns that the police could end up having too much authority -- unilaterally deciding to close cases -- without proper measures to keep it in check.

Acknowledging the current law allowing the prosecution to monopolize power to both investigate and indict is problematic, Moon stressed the solution should be reducing the prosecution’s authority rather than granting the police more power.

“The exception to democratic principles has been the prosecution’s authority to open direct investigations, and it would be more desirable to focus on reducing that authority,” he said.

The prosecution has called for reforming the policing system, keeping some divisions under the authority of the central government and others under municipalities, before prosecutors’ power can be shared. It particularly stresses the separation of the police’s administrative power and intelligence gathering.

The prosecution in Korea has exclusive rights to indict and seek warrants for suspects, and has broad judicial control over the police. Critics say this system fails to provide adequate checks and balances and point to it as contributing to corruption.

Among President Moon Jae-in’s major election pledges, redistributing investigative powers between the police and prosecution is considered central to rooting out social injustice.

On the establishment of a special investigative body tasked with independently probing and indicting high-ranking government officials suspected of corruption, the top prosecutor said he does not oppose it. But he raised concerns about giving the body power to both indict and seek warrants without revising the Constitution.

Addressing criticism about the prosecution’s political partiality in the past, the prosecutor-general pledged efforts to fix the organization and its functions in line with democratic principles. He cited decentralization of the scope of its investigation, as well as measures to expand channels for reopening of cases that had been closed by prosecutors.

Moon plans to persuade the National Assembly to reflect the prosecution’s views in the bills in the coming weeks.

Although the parties have fast-tracked the bills, it could take up to 330 days for discussions in the parliament to conclude. After that, the bills need to be submitted for a vote at a regular session of the National Assembly.