The inaugural chief nominee for a high-profile corruption investigative body vowed Tuesday to sternly investigate any high-ranking officials in accordance to the law without being politically influenced.
The remark was made during a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly for Kim Jin-wook, a former judge picked by President Moon Jae-in to serve as the inaugural chief of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials.
“The establishment of the CIO is a historic event that brings a shift to the judicial system that has been dominated by the prosecution with a sole authority on investigations and indictment for criminal cases,” Kim said during his opening remarks at the hearing.
“If I pass through the confirmation hearing and am officially appointed as the CIO’s chief, I will do my best to make the CIO as a prime investigative unit backed by people’s trust.”
The nominee said the unit will not be swayed by outside forces and will strive to maintain political neutrality and independence in investigating high-ranking officials. Human rights will also be prioritized while carrying out legally upright investigations, he added.
Kim vowed that the CIO will “make objections to the living power” as needed and serve its role as an anti-corruption agency. The phrase “living power” refers to the incumbent administration or those currently in power.
The nominee said the CIO will be ready to start investigations in about two months after hiring officials and getting the required policy and budgetary support. He said he is “open to possibilities” on who to appoint as investigators and what to probe as its first investigative project.
“At the moment, the investigative power of the CIO is very limited, as the information in its hands is just about what media outlets have reported on key ongoing cases,” he said in answering questions from lawmakers during the hearing.
“The first investigative case for the CIO will be symbolically important, which means that we will be open to all possibilities and will carefully review every detail with a focus on the truth.”
The CIO, armed with the right to indict suspects while looking into corruption among senior officials, has been part of the Moon administration’s push towards reforming the country’s prosecution that has been accused of having excessive power.
Kim emphasized that the CIO and its role are constitutional, as the unit forms a core part of the country’s institutional “checks and balances.”
For that reason, opposition lawmakers have raised criticisms that the agency could serve as a political weapon for the incumbent administration and the ruling party.
“Given our size and capacity at this point, it is difficult to look into every case involving senior officials that we can investigate,” Kim said.
“We can’t take on every case involving high-ranking officials from the very start. The CIO will take time to carefully choose what we can take from ongoing investigative projects.”
The prosecution has been at loggerheads with the ruling party for probing a number of cases involving government officials. In retaliation, some ruling party officials have pointed at Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl as the first official that the CIO should target.
In response, Kim said that “nothing has been decided yet,” vowing to “carefully assess” legal issues before embarking on any investigative effort.
He added that he “disagrees 100 percent” with allegations that the ruling party has been pressuring Yoon for his actions, although he notes that a lot of people seem to believe in them.
The nominee also rebutted accusations that he was ill-equipped to head an investigative unit, saying his experience as a judge and legal researcher will help him assess legislative violations of officials to be inspected.
The hearing committee is required to sign a confirmation report on Kim within 20 days of the hearing, after which Moon is expected to officially nominate him so as to kick-start the CIO’s work in the weeks to follow.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org