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(LEAD) Prosecution reform bills on fast track referred to plenary session

National 15:40 December 03, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- A set of prosecution reform bills on a parliamentary fast track was referred to a plenary session Tuesday, adding to partisan tensions sparked by the main opposition party's threat to use a filibuster.

Four reform bills -- proposals to set up an independent unit to probe corruption by high-ranking public officials and give more investigative authority to police -- are ready to be put to a full vote.

The referral is expected to intensify mounting partisan tensions spurred by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party's threat to launch a prolonged speech to deter a parliamentary vote.

The LKP decided Friday to filibuster over 199 bills until the end of the parliamentary regular session as it is determined to prevent votes on the fast track legislation, including an electoral reform bill.

This photo, taken Dec. 1, 2019, shows the closed main gate to the compound of the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

In late April, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and three minor parties put key political and judiciary reform bills on the fast track, despite strong objection from the LKP. An electoral reform bill was referred to a plenary session last week.

The proposed establishment of a special probe unit is one of President Moon Jae-in's key election pledges, designed to revamp the prosecution to prevent the agency from exerting excessive authority.

Disgraced former justice minister Cho Kuk was the main architect of the prosecution reform bill.

The DP hopes for the passage of the fast track bills before Dec. 10, when the 100-day regular parliamentary session ends.

Currently, two bills to set up a special probe agency were referred to a meeting, separately submitted by Rep. Back Hye-ryun of the DP and Rep. Kwon Eun-hee of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party.

Both bills have the same intent, to keep the prosecution in check and enhance surveillance of alleged corruption by high-ranking officials, including the president, lawmakers, top court justices and prosecutors.

But they differ on details over a proposed probe unit's authority for indictment.

Under Rep. Back's bill, the agency is empowered to file charges in cases of wrongdoings committed by judges, prosecutors and ranking police officers. The unit would be able to hold both the powers to investigate and indict.

But Rep. Kwon's proposal calls for the agency to set up a panel to review and approve whether to indict. The panel, consisting of ordinary citizens, would have the authority to decide on indictment.

The DP plans to negotiate with two small parties and two other fringe groups to produce a single bill on the probe unit in a bid to secure a quorum for a parliamentary vote.

The LKP strongly opposes the proposed creation of the probe agency, insisting that the president could take control of the prosecution and courts with his right to appoint the chief of the unit.

The ruling party proposed holding a plenary session to handle several bills linked to people's lives whose vote was suspended last week due to the LKP's filing for a filibuster.

"We call on the LKP to withdraw the filibuster bid," DP floor leader Lee In-young said at a party meeting. "We will wait for its answer by the evening. This is our last proposal."

The DP eyes the passage of the government's 2020 budget bill by the end of the regular session. A vote on a budget bill cannot be halted with the use of a filibuster.

Lee Hae-chan (C), chief of the ruling Democratic Party, and party lawmakers condemn the main opposition Liberty Korea Party at the National Assembly on Dec. 2, 2019, for threatening to use a filibuster to deter a parliamentary vote on key reform bills. (Yonhap)


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