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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 29)

All News 07:15 July 29, 2020

Step in wrong direction

Guarantee prosecution's political neutrality

A prosecution reform committee has caused a controversy over its recommendation that the prosecutor general should be deprived of any power to directly command or supervise investigations. The non-binding recommendation, if adopted by the Moon Jae-in administration, may risk putting much-needed law enforcement reform in harm's way.

On Monday, the panel established by the Ministry of Justice announced a series of suggestions that are apparently aimed at weakening the top prosecutor's authority. What is most controversial is a recommendation that the prosecutor general should be excluded from the chain of command for conducting investigations. It stressed the need for handing over the prosecutor general's investigation command authority to the heads of the high prosecutors' offices.

If this recommendation is turned into action, the country's chief prosecutor could become a "paper tiger" with little power to direct and supervise investigations. In other words, he or she could lose control over all 2,200 prosecutors. At the same time, the Supreme Prosecutors' Office may be reduced to a nominal unit.

We believe such a change is a step in the wrong direction. What is prosecution reform for? It is undoubtedly to enhance the prosecution's independence and political neutrality which are critical to fair and objective investigation. Regrettably, however, the panel's recommendations run counter to the purpose of the reform.

More worrisome is that the justice ministry has continued to try to strengthen its direct control of the prosecution. This attempt has raised questions about why the Moon administration is adamant to reform the law enforcement agency. And the liberal government is coming under criticism for trying to tame the prosecution, instead of ensuring its independence and neutrality.

The recommendations seem to reflect the ministry's intention of taking direct control of law enforcement. They have come amid an escalating conflict between Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl over investigations into high-profile corruption cases involving close aides to President Moon.

Their showdown reached its highest point early this month when Choo invoked her authority to directly command the prosecution over a case surrounding a close associate of Yoon and a former cable channel reporter who face allegations of colluding to dig up dirt on pro-Moon pundits.

Against this backdrop, Minister Choo has emphasized that it is necessary to check the power of the prosecutor general. That is why the reform committee recommended that the ministry directly command the heads of high prosecutors' offices over specific investigations. The panel also suggested that a judge or lawyer ― and not limited to a male candidate ― be appointed as prosecutor general, ending the practice of prosecutors monopolizing the top post.

The recommendations have some positive aspects. But taken overall, they are politically biased. They appear to protect the inner circle of the powers that be, rather than to promote real prosecution reform to firmly establish the rule of law. Minster Choo should no longer shout empty slogans of checks and balances in a dubious attempt to tame the prosecution and cover up corruption among ranking officials and political bigwigs.

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