(ATTN: ADDS prosecutor general's remarks in paras 14-16)
SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday the state prosecution is still powerful despite a set of administrative and legislative measures to reform the organization.
He called for Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl to push for "self-reform" while speaking at his New Year's press conference at Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon avoided a direct answer when asked if he has "confidence" in Yoon. He instead said, "I think he has already gained trust from the people in such aspects of strict probes and investigation not submissive to power." When used in the context of prosecution-related issues, the word "power" usually means the presidential office.
If Yoon takes the initiative in reforming "the culture" of his organization, he would receive more public trust, Moon said.
He stressed that his administration's prosecution reform drive is not related to ongoing investigations into high-profile scandals involving former and sitting Cheong Wa Dae officials.
The recent replacement of several senior prosecutors close to Yoon has nothing to do with the reform drive either, he added.
The president was responding to questions about a controversy over the justice ministry's reassignment of Yoon's lieutenants.
Moon said the right to appoint new senior prosecutors by the president and the justice minister "should be respected."
He added that former Justice Minister Cho Kuk has made a lot of contributions to the prosecution reform drive.
Citing Cho's suffering from prosecutors' intensive probe into a scandal involving him and his family, Moon said that whether they are guilty or not will be revealed through court trials.
But Moon said he owes a "debt in heart" to Cho and asked the people to stop conflicts over him. Social rifts are going on in South Korea over whether it was right for Moon to have picked Cho as justice minister.
On Monday night, parliament passed a package of bills on granting police more investigative rights in a bid to rebalance its role and power vis-a-vis the prosecution.
Lawmakers earlier passed another bill on creating a special non-prosecution unit specializing in looking into corruption among high-ranking civil servants, including prosecutors.
Later on Tuesday, Yoon pledged that the prosecution will keep pace with the reform policies.
"With the passage of the bills on the readjustment of investigative power, there will be a big change in the criminal justice system in the future," he said in a lecture to prosecutors in the central city of Jincheon. "We have to change a lot where we have to," he added.
Despite the legal revisions, Yoon said the prosecution will still play the most important role in investigation, prosecution and the whole process of criminal justice.
On politics, Moon stressed the "desperate" need for consultations between the ruling and opposition parties.
He rapped the current National Assembly, saying it should not operate as it does currently.
The president expressed hope for changes in the culture of politics here through the April 15 general elections.
He also said he will continue to give the country's prime minister more power and authority.
Moon added that he has no plan to push for a constitutional amendment himself.
Regarding soaring housing prices especially in Seoul, Moon said the government will mobilize strong countermeasures "endlessly" if necessary to stabilize the market and even return prices to the level before the boom over the past few years.
He agreed that it's "the right direction" to jack up the property holding tax and reduce the transfer tax, saying the government will review the matter "prudently."
Yoon's outreach to Southeast Asia keeps China in the loop
Allies' defense chiefs highlight watertight alliance based on full extended deterrence against N. Korean threats
(News Focus) Police under fire for lax response to emergency calls hours before Itaewon crush
Police under fire for lax response to emergency calls hours before Itaewon crush
Role of administrative authorities questioned in Itaewon disaster