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Top presidential secretary calls for swift push to reform police

National 14:25 May 20, 2019

SEOUL, May 20 (Yonhap) -- Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary on civil affairs, on Monday raised the need to swiftly push to reform the police as the country seeks to curb abuses of authority by powerful organizations.

Cho said that a legal revision is required to permanently prevent police officers in charge of collecting intelligence from becoming involved in illegal acts, as took place under previous conservative governments.

The presidential official made the remarks at the start of a trilateral meeting involving officials from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and government officials involved with police overhaul.

The drive for police reform came as the government is seeking to empower police to have bigger authority to conduct probes as part of broader plans to overhaul the prosecution.

The proposed adjustment of investigative power also raised the need to keep in check police's power due to concerns that police may have colossal authority to conduct investigations.

Cho raised the need to push for the police reform to discuss the adoption of an autonomous police system and the separation of police officers' work from general affairs and investigation.

The two issues were not designated as fast-track bills on judicial reform earlier this month.

"The reform of powerful organizations should be pursued in a way that ensures the curbing of abuses of power, decentralizing of powers and seeks balances and checks among such organs," Cho said.

To ease public doubts about the fairness of police probes, Cho raised the need to set up a state investigative agency that separates polices officers handling administrative affairs and probes.

He also said authority over public security-related affairs needs to be transferred to provincial governments from the state police agency through the adoption of an autonomous police system.

His remarks came days after Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il reiterated his criticism of bills on investigative power reform, saying that they fly in the face of democratic principles.

Amid escalating tensions between the prosecution and the police, each organ has launched probes into former chiefs of the other over alleged illegal acts.

The prosecution has recently sought arrest warrants for two former police chiefs on charges of illegally intervening in politics in 2016. One of them was arrested last week on charges of his involvement in the 2016 elections during the Park Geun-hye government.

The case highlighted suspected intervention in politics and illegal surveillance of civilians by police officers handling intelligence during the previous conservative governments.

"We will seek to decentralize the police's power by seeking to control involvement in probes by police officers in charge of non-probe affairs and pushing to swiftly implement the autonomous police system," Rep. Cho Jeong-sik, policy chief of the DP, told reporters.

"To prevent ranking (police) officials' inappropriate intervention (in politics), we will push for the creation of a state investigative control tower," he added.

Cho Kuk (L), senior presidential secretary on civil affairs, and National Police Agency Commissioner General Min Gap-ryong attend a trilateral meeting over police reform on May 20, 2019, at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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