(ATTN: UPDATES with details on planned unit in last 6 paras; ADDS byline)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in instructed the Cabinet on Tuesday to quickly gear up to launch a non-prosecution agency tasked with looking into corruption by high-ranking government officials.
He issued the call at Cheong Wa Dae while presiding over the first Cabinet meeting of 2020, in which the promulgation of related legislation was approved, according to the presidential office's deputy spokesman, Han Jung-woo.
Late last year, the National Assembly passed a bill to establish the body despite ferocious protests by the main opposition party, the conservative Liberty Korea Party.
The envisioned agency would be armed with the authority to probe high-profile corruption scandals and the right to indict state prosecutors, judges and senior police officers.
This would break the prosecution's decadeslong monopoly over the right to indict.
The measure is aimed at reforming the prosecution, as it is accused of wielding excessive power and being subject to political influence. The core measure was one of Moon's top presidential campaign pledges.
The unit is expected to be established as early as July.
With the relevant legislation to take effect in half a year, the authorities are pressed for time to prepare for its creation, Moon was quoted as saying.
He called for speedy and complete preparations, Han said.
It is to be comprised of two dozen "prosecutors," plus 30-40 investigators. Veteran lawmakers or retired judges as well as sitting state prosecutors will be able to work at the agency.
Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) say such an organization, first proposed in 1996, is necessary for "checks and balances" in the country's law-enforcement system.
Critics, however, liken it to Nazi Germany's Gestapo, voicing concern that it would serve as a secret investigation team for the Moon administration by overpowering the prosecution. They say it may be used as a tool to suppress probes into potential allegations of corruption, involving Moon and his aides, by state prosecutors.
DP lawmakers dismissed the assertion as groundless and malicious, noting that the prosecution has around 2,300 prosecutors and more than 7,000 investigators nationwide.
They called it as tantamount to David versus Goliath.
The Cabinet, meanwhile, endorsed the proclamation of legislation on electoral reform, which would expand the proportional representation system to elect new lawmakers.
It will also lower the voting age to 18 by one.
BTS' J-Hope closes Chicago's Lollapalooza festival
(2nd LD) Kim, Pelosi agree to support efforts for denuclearization of N. Korea
(LEAD) Assembly speaker meets with Pelosi amid heightened Sino-U.S. tensions
Assembly Speaker Kim to meet with U.S. House Speaker Pelosi this week
(LEAD) Yoon's approval rating falls to 28.9 pct
Court recognizes death after drinking with boss as workplace accident
150 front-line Army commandoes to conduct joint training at U.S. Army's National Training Center
Whereabouts of 55 Thai tourists on Jeju unknown
(2nd LD) S. Korea's new COVID-19 cases above 100,000 for 6th day
Deputy national security adviser resigns due to health reasons