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[Exclusive] Corrupt prosecutors unheard of in Germany: Berlin anti-graft chief

In South Korea, the heated debate on the introduction of prosecutorial reform bills continues to rage on, leaving the National Assembly paralyzed over how to pass the bills

The reform proposals have been prompted by the prosecution’s abuse of power and its history of failing to dig deep into corruption allegations involving prosecutors, among other misconducts.

The bills mandate the establishment of an independent anti-corruption body to investigate corruption allegations involving senior ranking officials, including prosecutors, and empowerment of police, as a check on the prosecution.

Rudiger Reiff, head of the Central Anti–Corruption Division of the General Attorney’s Office of Berlin, speaks during an exclusive interview with The Korea Herald at Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Korea Office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Rudiger Reiff, head of the Central Anti–Corruption Division of the General Attorney’s Office of Berlin, speaks during an exclusive interview with The Korea Herald at Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Korea Office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

“Abuse of power by the prosecution is very foreign in Germany. I mean I’ve never been asked about that by the German media,” Rudiger Reiff, head of the Central Anti–Corruption Division of the General Attorney’s Office of Berlin, said in an exclusive interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday.

On a visit to Korea to share his expertise with the Korean legal community on such issues as anti-corruption law enforcement, the senior prosecutor in Berlin explained that his unfamiliarity with prosecutors’ abuse of power stems from the absence of such abuse in Germany.

“I’ve never witnessed corruption cases involving prosecutors or judges on my watch in Berlin,” said the senior prosecutor. “I’ve never heard of that either, in Germany, in 30 years.”

He said his anti-corruption division investigated 134 cases last year in Berlin, and only 15 of them went to the court, mostly resulting in convictions in the German capital whose population hovers around some 4 million.

The 134 cases involve corruption in both public and private sectors; neither prosecutors nor judges were brought in as alleged offenders.

A meticulously designed legal framework that dictates what law enforcement agencies should do and what not to do case by case, combined with a deeply rooted rule-abiding culture, adds to such absence of prosecutors or judges in corruption cases and the strikingly low corruption rate, said Reiff.

“Prosecutors and judges are free from any political influence, and judges check on prosecutors whenever prosecutors go after potential infringements of basic rights during law enforcement.” 

Asked about his views on Korea’s proposed new anti-corruption body -- which will be independent of the standing prosecution that currently runs three major anti-corruption departments across the country -- Reiff declined to answer directly, citing his position as a prosecutor.

He said, however, “Corruption in Germany falls under the exclusive oversight of each state prosecution, whereas the federal prosecution looks into nationwide crimes such as terrorism.”

Reiff explained the state and federal prosecution are two independent agencies with no overlapping governance or chain of command.

The senior prosecutor shared his thoughts on the proposals’ inclusion of nonlegal experts in the anti-corruption body.

“It’s not bad to invite citizens because they would pitch in their take -- nonlegal experts’ angles -- on corruption cases,” he said. But he also expressed concerns about “their role in coming to sound judgments in cases that demand professional expertise.”

Senior Prosecutor Rudiger Reiff speaks during an exclusive interview with The Korea Herald at Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Korea Office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Senior Prosecutor Rudiger Reiff speaks during an exclusive interview with The Korea Herald at Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Korea Office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

On the argument of empowering police so they would be able to initiate and close a case, Reiff reiterated a somewhat textbook approach to the issue, saying, “follow the rulebook.”

The German prosecution does not have its own investigators.

“Police are our hands and feet, and we direct them to investigate as the laws mandate,” Reiff noted.

The prosecutorial reform bills in Korea mandate that prosecutors’ interrogation records of accused are not admissible as evidence in the court. This is to prevent prosecutors from using forced testimony to their advantage in the court.

“Interrogation records -- either by police or prosecution -- are not usually evidence in German courts,” Reiff said. “Well, in very exceptional cases, say if the accused is dead or hard to locate for some reason, then the court could consider the interrogation records as evidence.”

Reiff remained very cautious throughout the interview about his take on what the next step should be in Korea’s hotly debated prosecutorial reform proposals, as he wanted to distance himself from either side of the political spectrum.

But he repeatedly underlined “rules and procedures as dictated in the law” and respect for them, while directing attention to “prosecution’s independence” from undue outside influences.

“Prosecutors and abuse of power,” Reiff said, “Put together like that, the idea is somewhat foreign to me and in Germany as well.”

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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