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Chief prosecutor willing to risk job to protect investigative powers

A bill to strip investigative power from prosecution faces fierce opposition

Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo attends a meeting among senior prosecutors at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul on Monday. The meeting was attended by chiefs of 18 district prosecutors' offices across the country and three additional senior prosecutors, including Kim. (Joint Press Corps)
Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo attends a meeting among senior prosecutors at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul on Monday. The meeting was attended by chiefs of 18 district prosecutors' offices across the country and three additional senior prosecutors, including Kim. (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea’s chief prosecutor vowed to concentrate all efforts to protect the investigative power of the prosecution on Monday, as the Democratic Party of Korea looks to pass a contested bill that would remove all investigative powers from the prosecution.

Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo said in a meeting of senior prosecutors at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul on Monday that he would put his job and career on the line to stop the bill.

The meeting was attended by heads of 18 district prosecutor’s offices across the country and three chief figures of the prosecution including Kim. They gathered to openly express disapproval of the Democratic Party’s bill and discuss measures to prevent the bill being enacted.

“If the investigative capability is abolished for the prosecution, I, as prosecutor general, can no longer find meaning in carrying out my duties,” Kim said in opening remarks for the meeting. “I will not dwell on the position, and I will not avoid assuming any responsibility.”

Kim denounced the liberal party for making unprecedented moves to remove what he called one of the most crucial authorities of the prosecution.

“If the prosecution can’t conduct investigations, criminals will be left unpunished, victims will suffer in greater pain while (responses to serious crimes) will become powerless,” he added.

“In the end, the prosecution will be left as nothing but a mere structure, and it cannot be properly called and labeled as the prosecution as defined in the Constitution.”

Kim’s remarks were livestreamed, an unusual public relations decision for the prosecution, which conducts most of its meetings behind closed doors.

The bill in question is being pushed by the Democratic Party as part of its “prosecutorial reform” plans that are designed to rein in the prosecution, which for years has been accused of abusing its power.

The legislative proposal would prevent the prosecution from starting or carrying out any kind of investigation on its own.

The Moon Jae-in administration and the Democratic Party had already limited the prosecution to investigating just six types of crimes in 2020. Now the liberal bloc is looking to finish what it started by completely taking away its investigative powers.

The Democratic Party defended its push for the measure, saying the prosecution has abused its power too much in the past and that the country needs to protect the public from biased investigations that favor the privileged. The bill has been met with fierce opposition from political circles, with the conservative People Power Party accusing the liberal party of trying to prevent its former presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung and incumbent President Moon from being investigated and punished for past controversies.

“The prosecutorial reform that the Democratic Party is arguing for is essentially a bulletproof vest for Lee Jae-myung’s corruption,” a group of People Power Party legislators said in a statement Monday.

“It is a means to stop all the investigative efforts on corruption that (previously) had to stop because of power abuses (by the ruling bloc), and a means to get pardons for all the corruptive acts and crimes done in the past including allegations surrounding former presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and his wife Kim Hye-kyung.”

The legislators denounced the Democratic Party for looking to make South Korea “into a heaven for criminals” by abusing its legislative power and staging its personal vendettas.

Democratic Party figures denounced prosecutors for acting in a political manner by resuming investigative efforts on allegations involving the current administration and the liberal party only after President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol won the presidential election as the flagbearer of the People Power Party.

Civic groups have also expressed worries of the bill in question, saying the Democratic Party’s push to alter the way investigations are carried out could be counterproductive.

“If the investigative authority is concentrated solely in the hands of the police and the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, investigations could be left unchecked and fail to stay independent from political power and financial movements,” local civic group of attorneys named People Making Good Laws said in a statement Sunday.

“Considering that the police cannot properly conduct large-scale investigations at this point, taking away the prosecution‘s investigative power could result in providing pardons to greater evil and those abusing their power and authority.”

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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