President Park Geun-hye is set to embark on much-debated prosecution reform, expected to sharply reduce its power and organization, following a political agreement on the government reorganization plan.
The ruling Saenuri Party and the Democratic United Party on Sunday struck an agreement to pass Park’s government overhaul proposal, which includes a major restructuring of the prosecution office.
The plan calls for the abolishment of the powerful Central Investigation Department at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, which handles cases involving government officials, politicians and businessmen, and has long been accused of political bias and connection.
In the place of the special unit, the overhaul plan envisions the establishment of a permanent independent counsel and another new independent inspection body to deal with cases involving the presidential family members and high-ranking officials.
Both parties agreed to pass the prosecution reform bill within the first half of the year.
During the presidential campaign, Park called for the dilution of the prosecution’s excessive power.
The prosecution has been under mounting pressure to reform following a series of scandals involving bribes, sex and abuse of power. The elite law enforcement agency, which holds exclusive rights to indictment in the country’s criminal justice system, however, has been resisting moves for reform.
The political parties also agreed to cut the number of key posts reserved for prosecutors in the Justice Ministry as well as the number of vice ministerial level posts in the prosecution. The plan also includes a proposal imposing stricter rules for dismissed prosecutors for corruption if they start working as lawyers.
Creating a separate office empowered to investigate high-profile cases is at the center of the reform bill.
The Central Investigation Department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has handled most high-profile cases involving presidents, other high-ranking officials and chaebol. However, the opposition parties have been calling for a radical change in the prosecution, saying that the CID has failed to remain politically neutral.
The prosecution expressed concerns that the planned closure of the CID would cause chaos in dealing with high-profile cases.
“Even with the new investigative unit, the prosecution can investigate cases involving irregularities of high-profile figures. This will overlap work of the prosecution and the new office,” a senior prosecutor was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.
Abolishing the CID signals much-awaited reform in the prosecution, said Professor Yoon Pyong-joong of Hanshin University.
“The Korean prosecutors have enjoyed an unparalleled level of power that have prosecuted the presidents of Korea but have let themselves remain unpunished even if they commit crimes,” he said.
“The government needs to put the prosecution under the rules of the law and curb its unchallenged power by setting up any kind of new system or new organization,” he said.
Besides the planned closure of the CID, the government needs to devise effective tools to curb the prosecution’s power, said Shin Yul, a political professor at Myongji University.
“The abolishment of the CID is important but it can’t only disperse the prosecution’s power,” he said.
“It is important to seek a (administrative and legal) system to ensure the prosecution is politically neutral and contains its exclusive power to investigate high-profile cases.”
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)