Prosecutor-General nominee Yoon Seok-youl pledged to free the prosecution from political influence and reform the powerful law enforcement body at his confirmation hearing Monday.
“I take it with a heavy heart that the prosecution has been shaken and is not strict when facing the powerful,” he said, vowing “drastic” changes in the organization, system and culture.
Last month, President Moon Jae-in picked Yoon to lead the prosecution, which many regard as reflecting his resolve to revamp the prosecution and redistribute its investigative power with the police -- one of his election pledges.
“We will sternly deal with political and election cases based on law and principles without taking sides,” Yoon said.
Yoon also hinted at his support for the bill on establishing an independent body tasked with investigating corruption allegations involving high-ranking government officials, saying the creation of the body would better counter irregularities.
On redistributing the investigative power between police and the prosecution, Yoon signaled that the prosecution should maintain its control over police in conducting investigations.
The bill, which has been fast-tracked along with other reform proposals despite the main opposition Liberty Korea Party’s strong counter stance, is designed to revamp the prosecution’s investigative rights and give police greater autonomy to open and close probes.
The outgoing prosecution chief, Moon Moo-il, publicly criticized the parliamentary decision, stressing the need for measures to keep police authority in check.
The prosecution has been accused of being politically motivated and holding too much power, as it has the exclusive authority to indict criminal suspects and seek warrants.
The parliamentary hearing, however, became a battleground for rival political parties where Yoon faced questions over his ethics.
The Liberty Korea Party lawmakers raised allegations concerning his involvement in a 2013 case in which Yoon Woo-jin, ex-chief of the NTS Yongsan District Office, was suspected of taking bribes from a local businessman. Yoon Woo-jin is the brother of sitting Deputy Minister for Criminal Affairs Yoon Dae-jin, who is known to have a close relationship with the prosecutor-general nominee.
The main opposition party claimed that nominee Yoon had peddled influence over the investigation process to clear Yoon Woo-jin of the suspected bribery. They also suspected Yoon of having introduced a prosecutor-turned-lawyer to Yoon Woo-jin, which would be in violation of a law that prohibits public servants in positions linked to court trials or investigation from introducing a lawyer to the accused.
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea, on the other hand, argued that incumbent Liberty Korea Party chief Hwang Kyo-ahn should be brought to the hearing as a witness to clear the suspicions. Hwang was justice minister at the time.
Yoon was in charge of leading the investigation into the high-profile scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye. Under Yoon’s leadership, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office also investigated former President Lee Myung-bak and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae.