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[Newsmaker] Chief prosecutor’s outcry against loss of investigative rights draws mixed responses

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl arrives at the Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office in Daegu on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl arrives at the Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office in Daegu on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Chief prosecutor Yoon Seok-youl’s outcry against the ruling party’s move to deprive the prosecution of investigative rights by creating a new crime agency drew mixed reactions Wednesday, with Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun saying he was acting like a politician.

Following a yearlong brawl with former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae over investigative rights, the prosecutor general strongly criticized the plan to launch a new agency for “serious crimes,” modeled after Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, in his first ever media interview published Tuesday.

Yoon continued to ask for the support of the Korean people to stop what he said would only make it easier for those in power to avoid prosecution, in another interview published by JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday.

Yoon said splitting up the prosecution into agencies with both investigative and indictment rights for anti-corruption, financial crimes and national security crimes would be a better idea.

Justice Minister Park Beom-gye, who succeeded Choo in January, said Yoon’s suggestion was “one of many ideas worthy of consideration.”

“I don’t think (Yoon’s) idea is being widely discussed within the prosecution,” Park told reporters as he arrived for work Wednesday morning.

“It is one of the many suggestions, but since it is coming from the chief prosecutor, I think we should consider it with much weight.”

Park said the issue of separating investigative and indictment rights is “a topic that stems from efforts to overcome the many problems of abuse of prosecutorial rights, especially direct investigation (by prosecutors).”

“It is important that the nation’s capability to respond to crime is guaranteed and enhanced, I hope the prosecutor general can also give some thought to the abuse of investigative rights,” Park said.

“It would be nice to discuss in person, but it is regrettable that we are conversing through the press. I wish he could speak more gently.”

Prime Minister Chung said in a TBS radio interview Wednesday morning that the prosecutor general was acting like a politician.

“If the prosecutor general wants to discuss legislation related to the prosecution, he should talk to the parliament. He spoke with two newspapers. Is this the attitude of an administrator? It was inappropriate,” Chung said.

“Separating investigation and indictment is better for protection of human rights. What I know is that most countries separate those two, regardless of what it looks like.”

Chung took to Facebook after the interview to write that Yoon should offer to resign if he really wants to express his personal opinions.

Yoon said he could “stake his job 100 times” if he could stop the launch of the agency for six types of crime, including abuse of power and corruption.

Most countries separate investigation and indictment in general. In the US, police conduct most of the investigation process, while prosecutors indict and pursue criminal charges.

In the UK, police are in charge of the investigation, and the prosecution only decides whether to indict.

In Germany, police conduct the investigation, while the state attorney heads pretrial investigations and decides whether to press charges.

But for serious crimes, prosecutors get involved in the investigation process in many countries, according to Yoon.

Japan’s public prosecution system is similar to that of South Korea. The SFO of the UK also investigates and prosecutes. The SFO says it was set up this way because cases of serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption are complicated, and lawyers and the investigators need to work together from the beginning.

In major cases of crime, US federal attorneys also take part in the investigation by discussing probe strategies with federal investigators.

By Kim So-hyun (