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Prosecution, police clash over reform plan

Prosecutors defy plan to empower police


The prosecution and the police have locked horns with each other over whether to share the rights to launch investigations, which is now exclusive for prosecutors.

While prosecutors are concerned that empowering police could lead to redundant and abusive investigations causing various problems, police are determined to demand certain level of independence, which they have been craving for decades.

According to numerous sources, the Prime Minister’s Office has come up with an arbitrary plan guaranteeing the police’s rights to initiate investigation in cases of civic affairs. The prosecution will still hold the initiative for probe into cases involving national security, election and irregularities of public officials and politicians. The details are expected to be announced Monday and once agreed, it will be submitted to the National Assembly for a relevant law revision.

However, both prosecution and police are less than satisfied.

After being briefed about the outline, Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam, in charge of the prosecution, said, “I am not sure whether prosecutors would buy this.”

Police Commissioner-General Cho Hyun-oh also said, “I think I am not the one to talk about anything,” hinting at more internal feud over the plan.

Currently, the prosecution holds the rights to initiate and supervise the investigation as well as to conduct indictment and request issuance of arrest warrant. The police are bound to “obey” the prosecutors and by far have the rights to book a suspect only.

Over the past several years, police have demanded to share the rights to initiate investigation and to indict a suspect. Many insiders complained that the police have been taking over practical duties while the prosecution focuses more on the tactical elements.

“Many officers expressed that they were insulted when they were obliged to obey their prosecutors no matter what circumstances and case it was about,” a police official said at a public hearing held on Friday. They urged the government and lawmakers to guarantee their status as “partners” instead of hierarchical relations to prosecutors.

Those who support the police claim that the prosecutors have enjoyed monopolistic status for too long and that they need innovation.

Days ago, a group of lawmakers sought to scrap the Central Investigation Department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office but was marred by the National Assembly’s Justice Committee as it halted the bill possibly due to the fierce resistance from the prosecution. Opposition lawmakers said the unit has unfairly investigated politically sensitive cases.

Still, the prosecution refutes that authorizing police with more power will add confusion to the investigation process.

“The two might end up launching the same investigation and the prosecution will not be able to stop bulldozing police in the middle of the probe. It’s a waste of money and time,” a prosecutor was quoted by saying to a local cable news network.

Also raised, was the problem of human rights infringement. Earlier this month, the Seoul High Court charged four police officers in Yangcheon, western Seoul, for physically torturing a group of suspects in order to induce their confession. There were claims that the Yangcheon incident is not the only human rights infringement committed by the police.

“It seems fair that the prosecution is constantly checked by the court and the police is checked by the prosecutors to make the investigation transparent,” Kim Joon-gyu, prosecutor general, said.

Low ranking prosecutors on Sunday afternoon held a meeting against the draft and vowed to fight against it.

Observers say reformation is inevitable since the President as well as the political circle is determined to settle the issue.

President Lee Myung-bak on Friday told Cabinet members that the friction between the two is a mere “turf war” and is “pathetic.”

“With the president keen to take the matter in his own hand, the two should learn to compromise,” an observer said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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