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Ruling party steps up push for new anti-corruption agency


(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is stepping up its push for the launch of a new investigation body for high-ranking public officials, a flagship project of President Moon Jae-in’s prosecution reform initiative, by proposing bills to amend related laws and seeking to move up the launch by a month.

According to the National Assembly’s bill information site on Tuesday, 10 ruling party lawmakers jointly tabled 13 bills on Monday to create a legal framework for the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials, or CIO, to allow the new body to operate effectively immediately after its launch.

Among other things, the proposed legislation would grant the new organization the authority to request information from the Korea Financial Intelligence Unit on wealth-related crimes, and to ask the National Human Rights Commission of Korea to launch an investigation.

If it passes, the head of the agency or one of its prosecutors will be able to directly request the justice minister’s cooperation in calling for international investigations, confiscations of property or tax penalties.

With the birth of the CIO, the power that prosecutors now have to investigate and prosecute high-level government officials would be shared with the independent agency. The new entity would handle any corruption cases involving the president, ministers, lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, police officers or members of their families.

The law authorizing the launch of the CIO came into effect in July this year, but a lack of cooperation from the main opposition People Power Party has put the brakes on procedures like selecting experts to recommend a chief.

The conservative bloc has raised concerns that the CIO could be used as a tool to tame the prosecution and the police. The possibility that the Moon administration and the Democratic Party could use the new entity to suppress dissent was one reason that the opposition party stood against the plan.

Raising the ante, the ruling party said it wanted to launch the CIO before the end of November, a month earlier than planned.

“There was a general consensus that the installation of the CIO should be completed within November after finishing the formation of a recommendation committee (for the appointment of the CIO chief) this week,” party spokesman Choi In-ho said Monday.

On Tuesday, the opposition party officially announced that it had picked prosecutor-turned-lawyer Im Jeong-hyuk and Lee Hun, former head of the Korea Legal Aid Corporation, as members of the seven-member committee that will recommend candidates for the post of CIO chief.

Once the committee narrows down the choice of candidates to two, who must both gain support from at least six members of the panel, the president will select one. A National Assembly confirmation hearing is needed before the appointee can assume the top job.

The committee is to comprise the justice minister, the director of the National Court Administration and the president of the Korean Bar Association, as well as two people each from the ruling and opposition parties.

The ruling party warned that it would push for the revision of the law to enable itself to launch the CIO without endorsement from the opposition if the two right-leaning committee members, Im and Lee, exercise their veto power and further delay the appointment of the CIO chief.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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