Prosecutorial reform drive hits snag
The much-touted drive for prosecutorial reform is showing signs of slowing down due to apparently differing stances held by top power holders.
President Moon Jae-in has been pressing for the reform. But his drive seems to have met barricades as the newly appointed Prosecutor General Mun Moo-il has been maintaining a lukewarm attitude over key points.
Mun has shown an “uncooperative” stance as a means to secure the prosecution’s autonomy amid its tainted reputation following repeated scandals.
However, it could end up derailing efforts by President Moon who has advocated prosecutorial reform as a top priority of his five-year term.
Mun was officially appointed last Tuesday following a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly a day earlier. He opposed the reform plan under which the prosecution retains only the right to indict and hands over investigative rights to police.
Currently, both police and the prosecution can investigate criminal cases but the former always has to be under the latter’s supervision.
“A prosecutor cannot determine whether to indict a suspect without investigating the case, just as a judge cannot make a ruling without conducting a trial,” he said. The prosecution can correct mistakes made by the police during an investigation, Mun added, also saying the prosecution’s direction can help the police conduct more thorough investigations.
Mun also refused to clearly state whether he agreed to set up an independent body that can investigate corruption of high-ranking officials and their families including prosecutors, another major reform plan of the President.
“I am aware of the growing public demands that the prosecution should serve the public, unfettered by politics. However, I think there are better ways than pushing ahead with setting up the independent body. We should weigh the costs and benefits before making a big decision,” Mun said.
Those stances drew criticism for failing to recognize the calls for the long-stalled, major reform of the powerful government organization.
Mun said he would find ways to “reform from the inside,” by standing firm against temptations for political favors in exchange for arbitrary discretion exercised. He was criticized for “being stubborn.”
In response, President Moon told him that setting up the independent body is part of the efforts to root out corruption among all high-ranking public officials. “The true meaning of setting up the body is to increase monitoring against corruption, not particularly to stifle the prosecution any more than other high-ranking public officials,” Moon said.
However, what was intended as a consoling remark did little to allay Mun, who is facing growing pressure to lead the organization amid continued government measures seeking to diminish its power.
Last Thursday, President Moon reduced the number of vice-ministerial-level prosecutors to 44, down five from the previous year at 49. The reduction reflects long-held criticism that the prosecution had too many such posts compared to a government ministry which typically has no more than two vice ministers.
Mun visited the National Police Agency in Seoul Friday, to meet with high-ranking officials there. The first-ever visit by the country’s top prosecutor to the police, it was considered a move seeking cooperation ahead of what could be a long, conflict-ridden process over the next few years.
Prosecutor General Mun Moo-il, right, extends his hand to National Police Agency Commissioner General Lee Cheol-seong, left, in front of the police agency headquarters in Seoul, Friday.