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New CIO chief vows to restore public trust

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : May 22, 2024 - 14:26

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Oh Dong-woon, the new chief prosecutor of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials, takes questions from reporters on his way to the CIO office in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Oh Dong-woon, the new chief prosecutor of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials, takes questions from reporters on his way to the CIO office in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Oh Dong-woon, the new chief of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials, pledged Wednesday to strengthen the agency's role as an independent investigative body and to restore public trust.

In his inaugural address, Oh said, “The CIO has been criticized for falling short of public expectations. My responsibility is to strengthen the agency's role as an independent investigative body in line with the purpose for which the CIO was created.”

“Since the public trust will only be with us when the agency fulfills its original functions and roles, the CIO must investigate well. Therefore, I will streamline the work structure by eliminating unnecessary paperwork. Also, I will ensure that the prosecutors of the CIO can do their jobs without being swayed by external pressures.”

Earlier the same day, he told the media the same pledge en route to the CIO office in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province.

When asked by reporters whether the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Marine Cpl. Chae Su-geun in July, Oh said, “While I haven't received an official report yet ... it's one of the CIO’s most important tasks, so I'll carefully look into it.”

The CIO was launched in January 2021 during the former Moon Jae-in administration to independently investigate corruption cases involving former and current high-ranking public officials, including the president, lawmakers and prosecutors as the only investigative body aside from the prosecution endowed with the authority to indict.

President Yoon Suk Yeol in April nominated Oh, a former Seoul High Court judge, as the new head of the CIO. Oh began his term as CIO chief Tuesday as the parliament passed the confirmation report on Oh the same day. Yoon approved the appointment of the new chief prosecutor of the CIO later Tuesday. Yoon presented a letter of appointment to Oh at the presidential office on Wednesday.

Earlier on Tuesday during a confirmation hearing held at the National Assembly, Oh said, “I can't give an answer to the specific case, but in general, I agree (with the idea that the president can be summoned if needed),” in response to a question about whether Yoon could be summoned over the alleged abuse of power in a probe into the Marine soldier's death.

Chae died after being swept away by an overflowing stream during a search-and-rescue operation for victims of heavy rainfall and flooding in Yecheon, North Gyeongsang Province, on July 19, 2023. Chae was 20.

The CIO has been looking into allegations that former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup exerted influence on holding off the Marine Corps' internal probe into Chae's death and its transfer of the case to the police. Chae's death sparked suspicions that he was forced by his superiors to push ahead with the risky rescue operation without proper safety measures in place.

As for the new deputy head of the CIO, Oh said he would not rush to appoint a deputy chief prosecutor, adding he will select someone who "can make up for the chief prosecutor’s shortcomings.”

Oh pledged to strengthen the agency's role as an independent investigative body amid continued criticism of the CIO's sluggish performance. Over the past three years, the agency produced three indictments, with just one of the cases ending up with a guilty sentence for the accused.