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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 4)

All News 09:06 January 04, 2020

Do not derail reform
Political neutrality key to revamping prosecution

President Moon Jae-in's push for prosecutorial reform is expected to gain momentum after he appointed Rep. Choo Mi-ae, a five-term lawmaker and former ruling party chairwoman, as justice minister. Choo took office Friday, 81 days after her predecessor, Cho Kuk, resigned over mounting corruption allegations surrounding him and his family.

The appointment shows Moon's strong determination to reform the prosecution, which has long been blamed for abusing its authority and serving as the handmaiden of political power. The President carefully picked Choo, a political bigwig with a career as a judge, in order not to repeat the appointment fiasco of Cho, who had to step down in October after 35 days in office.

Only few can question her qualification as justice minister. Yet the main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has lashed out at Cheong Wa Dae for trying to control the prosecution by naming Rep. Choo to lead the Ministry of Justice. This criticism is somewhat overblown, but should not be dismissed as categorically groundless, as it has come amid conflicts between the LKP and the governing Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) over how to reform the prosecution.

Such conflicts have escalated since the DPK submitted a prosecution reform bill along with an electoral reform bill for fast-track legislation in April. Moon aggravated the situation with his appointment of Cho, his close aide and former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, as justice minister. The ruling camp's angry reaction to the prosecution's investigations into Cho's corruption scandal and an election-meddling case involving Moon's confidant ― Ulsan Mayor Song Cheol-ho ― has also cast doubts on the true intentions of Moon's prosecutorial reform.

To shake off these doubts, the Moon administration should reform the law enforcement agency in an objective and transparent way. It must not try to give the impression that it is pressing ahead with the reform to tame the prosecution and thwart the investigations into the corruption and election interference cases.

It is most crucial in prosecutorial reform to guarantee the prosecution's political neutrality and independence from political power. Therefore, Justice Minister Choo should first focus on changing the agency so prosecutors can conduct investigations independently without being subject to any political pressures or outside influences.

Choo must not try to control the prosecution by abusing the justice ministry's right to personnel management, budgeting or oversight of the agency. There are some concerns that she might try to neutralize investigations into bribery and other corruption cases surrounding Moon's aides and confidants. If such concerns become reality, prosecution reform could fail.

The new minister needs cooperative ― not hostile ― ties with the prosecution and Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl, who is spearheading a campaign against corrupt officials and politicians. She should build consensus on the need for reform not only with prosecutors but also with the public. We hope Choo will make prosecution reform a success to ensure the rule of law and better protect human rights.

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