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[News Focus] Final vote expected on new corruption investigation body

A bill on setting up an independent body tasked with investigating corruption of high-ranking officials was expected to be put to vote Monday amid fierce opposition from the prosecution and the main opposition party.


The nearly 27-hour filibuster, which the main opposition Liberty Korea Party began Friday to stop the bill’s passage, ended at midnight Sunday as the extra parliamentary session ended. A new session was called for Monday, where lawmakers are expected to vote on the contentious bill.

“I hope that legal procedures to launch an independent investigation body be wrapped up at the extraordinary session beginning on Monday,” Democratic Party of Korea Floor Leader Lee In-young said Sunday at a press conference. “If we cannot complete the prosecution reform, Republic of Korea will become ‘Republic of the Prosecution.’”

The bill, along with an electoral reform bill that passed last week and other prosecution reform bills, have long been source of partisan wrangling, paralyzing the parliamentary operations for months.

The Moon Jae-in administration and the ruling Democratic Party have pushed for setting up an independent body tasked with investigating senior government officials, from the president to prosecutors, and that has power to indict suspects, which they believe could keep the prosecution in check.

The prosecution in Korea has the exclusive rights to close investigations and indict suspects, and has broad judicial control over the police. Critics say this system fails to provide adequate checks and balances and has led to the law enforcement agency’s abuses of power.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party has strongly protested the bill, saying the new body could be filled with pro-government personnel and be politically exploited to target the president’s political opponents.    

Under the bill, the head of the new investigation body is appointed by the president from two candidates recommended by a seven-member committee. The person is subject to a parliamentary confirmation hearing. The committee is composed of those recommended by the Justice Minister, head of Korea Bar Association, chief of National Court Administration, two from the ruling party and two from the opposition parties.

The ruling Democratic Party gained backing for the prosecution reform bill from minor parties -- including the conservative Bareunmirae Party -- by agreeing to election reform, which could lead to the ruling party losing seats in the upcoming April 15 general elections.

Following the end of the filibuster, the Democratic Party and Liberty Korea Party each scrambled to secure more votes from minor parties in favor or against it. Some of the Bareunmirae Party lawmakers have publicly voiced opposition to the bill.

For the bill to pass, at least 148 out of the current 295 lawmakers should vote in its favor. The ruling party and minor parties hold 157 seats.

If the bill passes, the investigation body will be launched in July at the earliest.

Rep. Kwon Eun-hee of the Bareunmirae Party on Sunday submitted a new legislative proposal, which gives the new entity less power. Under the bill, the body only retains rights to investigate corruption allegations, with the prosecution holding rights to indict suspects. The committee to pick the head of the body only consists of those recommended by the parliament.

The bill is also expected to be put up for a vote at a parliamentary session on Monday.

The prosecution has also publicly expressed its opposition to the bill, citing that it could undermine the prosecution’s capacity to investigation corruption crimes and causes inefficiency in law enforcement.

Prosecutors take issue with the clause that requires prosecutors to report to the independent investigation body when they spot corruption crimes involving senior government officials.

“The independent investigation body is not a control tower or a body above the prosecution and police,” the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said in a statement, saying the bill is not in line with the Constitution and law.