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(LEAD) Gov't vows efforts for police reform legislation

All News 16:54 January 31, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with Cheong Wa Dae's briefing in last 7 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will make efforts to get legislation of police reform bills passed in the first half of 2020 in its drive to follow up on the parliamentary passage of key prosecution reform bills, the prime minister said Friday.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun unveiled the government's steps to support the passage of bills to set up a non-prosecution body to look into corruption by ranking public officials and to grant police more investigative authority.

"(The government) will introduce an autonomous police force and set up a state investigative agency," Chung told reporters after briefing President Moon Jae-in on the issue.

The plan is aimed at balancing the reforms of the prosecution and police as the transfer of key investigative powers to the police spawned concerns about excessive police authority. Related police reform bills are pending.

An autonomous police system calls for provincial governments to oversee police stations and regional police agencies. Such police will mainly handle the security of people in cases of school and domestic violence, and traffic accidents.

The establishment of a state investigative agency is aimed at dispersing colossal police authority. An outside expert will head the agency and be in charge of police investigations, a move designed to prevent outside interference in probes.

"The government will do its best to prod parliament to complete the legislation of reforming the police under the 20th National Assembly session," Chung said.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun (C) announces the government's follow-ups to support the passage of key prosecution reform bills at the government complex building in Seoul on Jan. 31, 2020. (Yonhap)

He added that the government will set up a team to prepare for the establishment of the separate corruption investigation agency under the wing of his office. The body is expected to set sail in July.

The creation of such an agency and granting more investigative power to police are part of President Moon's election campaigns to reform the prosecution.

Chung's televised announcement came shortly after briefing President Moon Jae-in on the measures during a Cheong Wa Dae session joined by Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Minister of Interior and Safety Chin Young.

Moon reiterated the need to thoroughly reform the prosecution, saying the establishment of the non-prosecution body is "very meaningful," Choo said.

"For the reform of power organizations, there is a need to democratically disperse authority for the people and seek checks and balances among power agencies," Moon was quoted as saying.

Moon's office also said in a separate press briefing that he had called on Chung and the ministers to strive to "flesh out" reform plans including those on guidelines on investigation by prosecutors and police and organizational changes.

"A tough task starts now," Moon told them, noting that South Korea's law enforcement system is due to be modified for the first time since the liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, according to Cheong Wa Dae's deputy spokesperson Han Jung-woo.

He emphasized the importance of collecting various opinions not just from the prosecutors' office and police but also from lawyers, academics and judges.

Moon put forward three principles in the process -- reform for the sake of the people, the exemplary function of the envisioned special anti-corruption unit and no weakening of the overall investigative power of the authorities -- Han said.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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