From this year, the range of investigation by the prosecution was reduced to six categories of serious crimes under related laws revised early last year to reset the relationship between the prosecution and the police. The six fields are economy, corruption, civil servants, elections, defense contracts and disasters.
Though a little more than two months into the new system, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea is moving to strip the prosecution of all of its remaining investigation power.
The prosecution reform panel of the party plans to propose the “serious crime investigation agency” bill this month and push it through in June.
The point of the bill is to transfer investigation power for the six types of crimes to the new agency. If it was created, the prosecution will lose its right to investigate. All it can do will be merely to request a warrant and indict a suspect.
Against this backdrop, Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl on Tuesday condemned the party’s move to deprive the prosecution of its investigation rights. In a rare interview with a national newspaper, he rapped the planned bill as the retrogression of democracy and the destruction of the constitutional spirit. He said that if the prosecution forfeits investigation rights, politically, economically and socially powerful people will enjoy extraterritorial rights.
The prosecution has accumulated investigation know-how and capability. When it comes to criminal investigations, no other agencies are better qualified than the prosecution. If a new agency investigates serious crimes, its probe will likely be less rigorous, making it difficult to progress a case to the stage of indictment. This will only benefit suspects.
Serious crimes are complicated, intellectual and subject to political influence so that systematic and coordinated investigation is essential, not to mention the neutrality of investigation. But if investigators and indictors work separately, it will be difficult for indictors (prosecutors) to grasp related cases clearly and deal effectively with the defense attorneys in court. The court may misjudge some suspects as not guilty though they should be convicted. This destroys the rule of law.
The prosecution is the nation’s best-qualified investigative agency. Stripping it of investigation power is as good as disintegrating the prosecution. This is a disservice to the public interest.
Investigation and indictment are inseparable like two sides of a coin. The party argues among developed countries only the Korean prosecution possesses the right to both investigate and indict, but that is not true. Judicially advanced countries have granted investigation powers to the prosecution in the cases of serious crimes. Out of 35 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 27 allow the prosecution to conduct direct investigations.
The Justice Ministry broke up prosecution teams who were investigating allegations involving those close to the president. It also isolated Yoon, effectively preventing him from commanding those investigations. The government used Seoul Central District Chief Prosecutor Lee Sung-yoon and a handful of other pro-Moon prosecutors as a shield to protect the president and his aides from investigations. And yet, the Daejeon District prosecutors continued to investigate the Energy Ministry’s manipulation of the feasibility evaluation results for the Wolsong-1 nuclear power plant, a case targeting the energy minister and possibly Moon. Surprised by this undeterred investigation, the ruling party is expediting its plan to make a paper tiger of the prosecution.
Some of the lawmakers leading the party’s drive to deprive the prosecution of its investigation power are suspects being investigated by the prosecution. This raises questions as to if they are trying to obstruct ongoing investigations into them under the pretext of reform.
If the prosecution cannot investigate allegations involving powerful people, their crimes will hardly be curbed, paving a road for a corrupt dictatorship. As Yoon feared, Korea is about to become a nation with a way made available for those in power to get off scot-free. Where the rule of law collapses, dictatorship grows. People must pay attention.