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[Newsmaker] Moon pins high hopes on new probe unit to fight corruption

President Moon Jae-in expressed high hopes Tuesday for the imminent launch of a new investigative body that will be tasked with looking into corruption among high-level government officials, such as prosecutors and presidents.

Setting up the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, independent from the state prosecution office, is one of Moon’s main campaign pledges and is key to his reform push to fight corruption. Last week, parliament approved a bill on expediting its launch amid fierce resistance from the opposition party.

President Moon Jae-in speaks during a weekly Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in speaks during a weekly Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

“The CIO is highly significant because it can serve as a tool to democratically regulate the prosecution,” Moon said as he presided over a weekly Cabinet meeting in Seoul, calling the new body “a long-cherished desire of the nation’s democracy.”

“The launch will pave the way for all powerful institutions to be operated through checks and balance and to be reborn as new institutions that only exist to serve the people.”

Discussion of such a non-prosecution investigative body began almost two decades ago, during the illegal campaign funding investigations into former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo. But those talks produced no tangible results as parties clashed over their competing political interests.

This time, the CIO bill was approved last December and the legislation took effect in July. But its launch has been delayed amid political disputes over the choice of its first leader. Last week’s parliamentary approval allows the ruling block to choose an inaugural CIO chief, as the opposition party no longer has any veto power. 

Having sensed the prolonged political disputes and confusion among the public, Moon reiterated that the CIO would be free from ideology or political fractions.

“The CIO was a campaign pledge of the Grand National Party, the predecessor of the current main opposition party, back in 2004 and some high-profile opposition party figures who are resisting to the CIO now had supported its launch in the past,” he added.

He also strongly rebutted criticism from the opposition that the CIO is also likely to wield too much power.

“We are adding another sword against potential power abuse by the administration. It’s hard to understand how this can be linked to the idea of dictatorship,” he argued.

Instead, he expressed regret over the “delayed” launch of the CIO, saying “If the CIO had been established earlier, the Park Geun-hye administration’s corruption and influence-peddling scandal could have been prevented.” 

Following the ongoing nomination process to pick its inaugural leader, the CIO is expected to officially kick off at the start of 2021. 

During the meeting, Moon also proclaimed two other bills that aim to give more investigative authority to police and deprive the National Intelligence Service, the nation’s spy agency, of its authority to conduct anti-communist investigations.

By Lee Ji-yoon (