Top prosecutor in South Korea reiterates opposition to investigative rights reform
SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il on Thursday reiterated his opposition to bills on redistributing investigative powers between the prosecution and police, saying it runs counter to the principles of democracy.
At a press briefing, he also vowed efforts to overhaul the prosecution and meet public expectations for curbing its authority amid long-held criticism that it wields too much power.
“The bills designated as fast-track proposals do not meet the democratic principles of the criminal justice system and there are concerns about possible loopholes in protecting basic rights,” Moon said in a press conference.
The bills were tabled in the National Assembly to revamp the prosecution’s investigative rights and give the police greater autonomy to conduct probes in the wake of an intensifying power struggle between the prosecution and police.
The ruling Democratic Party and three minor opposition parties fast-tracked the bills in late April despite strong protests by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.
The top prosecutor criticized the parliamentary decision, stressing the need for measures to keep police authority in check.
The prosecution has called for reforming the policing system, keeping some divisions under the authority of the central government and others under municipalities, before prosecutors’ power can be shared. It particularly stresses the separation of the police’s administrative power and intelligence gathering.
“It is the prosecution’s duty to raise issues about the dangers that can posed by the police’ exclusive authority of intelligence gathering and administration,” he said
The most contentious points of the bills concern allowing the police to open and close cases without approval from the prosecution, as well as the establishment of a special investigative body tasked with independently investigating and indicting high-ranking government officials implicated in corruption.
The top prosecutor said he does not oppose the establishment of an investigative body, but raised concerns about granting it power to both indict and seek warrants without revising the Constitution.
The prosecution in Korea has the exclusive rights to indict and seek warrants for suspects, and has broad judicial control over the police. Critics say this system fails to provide adequate checks and balances and point to it as contributing to corruption.
Among President Moon Jae-in’s major election pledges, redistributing investigative powers between the police and prosecution is central to root out social injustice.
Addressing criticism about the prosecution’s political partiality in the past, the prosecutor-general pledged efforts to fix the organization and its functions in line with democratic principles. He cited decentralization of the scope of its investigation, as well as measures to allow reopening of cases that had been closed.
Although the parties have fast-tracked the bills, it could take up to 330 days for discussions in the parliament to conclude. After that, the bills need to be submitted for a vote at a regular session of the National Assembly.