Prose­cu­to­rial re­form drive hits snag

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Lee Kyung-min

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.

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