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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on Oct. 11)

All News 07:11 October 11, 2016

Their own justice
Time to discuss proposed bill on new investigative agency

Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong has expressed skepticism over setting up a new state entity that specializes in probing corruption cases of senior government officials.

At a recent parliamentary interpellation, Kim argued that the establishment and operation of such an agency could be a waste of the government budget. He also said it could end up having a surveillance function, which may infringe on human rights.

Claiming that the agency could be unconstitutional as it would not belong to any of the three separate -- executive, legislative and judiciary -- powers, Kim called on the National Assembly to take a cautious approach to the issue.

Though the independent agency would be able to investigate any high-ranking officials in regard to corruption cases, it is particularly designed to tackle prosecutors' abuse of authority and internal irregularities in the prosecutors' office.

In that context, the prosecution -- in line with the justice minister's argument -- appears to be in a desperate bid to block the agency's establishment and secure its long-standing vested rights. Despite a series of corruption scandals involving incumbent prosecutors, the Supreme Prosecutors' Office has continued to say that it can effectively carry out internal reforms, dismissing the need for a new agency.

Judges and lawmakers from the ruling Saenuri Party hold a similar stance, while polls show the public support the bill on the agency's launch, which was proposed by two major opposition parties in early August.

In the latest poll, about 70 percent of respondents said they supported the legislative move for the agency while less than 20 percent opposed it. The prosecution and prosecutors-turned-lawmakers have little justification to reject the creation of the special entity.

It is time for the Justice Ministry and prosecutors' office to admit that they were lax in probing their own officials until prosecutor-implicated scandals brought severe public criticism. Furthermore, their apology and reform pledges usually turned sour as time went on.

So they should accept the situation -- as citizens are well aware -- that the prosecution cannot be reformed by simply strengthening the internal monitoring of prosecutors. Their irregularities should be cracked down on by a third party, not by themselves.

The latest incident has raised the necessity that a new agency should totally be independent of administrative as well as judicial powers.

Lee Seok-su, as an independent inspector general, had been assigned to probe Woo Byung-woo, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, over allegations that Woo abused his power to provide special benefits to his son who was serving military service and misappropriated funds of a company owned by his family.

But Lee had to tender his resignation to President Park Geun-hye after he was caught illegally leaking information on the presidential aide to the media. In August, the prosecution raided Lee's office on the allegation that he was behind the leak.

It created quite an odd situation: The prosecution formed a task force to look into the inspector general at the same time. As a result, Lee has left and Woo is still working for the president.

The case of Lee vs. Woo is just one example of the underdeveloped level of justice and law enforcement in the nation, where corruption cases involving prosecutors often frustrate ordinary citizens.

Last month, Prosecutor Kim Hyung-joon was arrested on charges of taking kickbacks in return for peddling influence over an investigation. He was the second incumbent prosecutor to be arrested this year, following Jin Kyung-joon, who was indicted in July for receiving huge kickbacks, or over-the-counter stocks from a businessman.

Some might insist that Kim and Jin's cases are good examples that show the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Prosecutors' Office should take stringent measures against corrupt prosecutors.

If their determination and apology to the public are sincere, there is no reason to oppose the new agency's launch.

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