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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 19)

National 07:13 February 19, 2021

Going too far

The attempt by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and its allies in the National Assembly to establish a new investigation agency is under attack after several lawmakers from the ruling front, who are being investigated by the prosecution or are undergoing trials, took part in proposing the bill. They cannot avoid being accused of conflict of interest.

The proposers of the bill include Rep. Hwang Un-ha, a DP lawmaker, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in executing the Blue House's order to investigate corruption involving Ulsan mayor Kim Gi-hyeon to help President Moon Jae-in's old friend win a mayoral election in 2018. Another backer of the bill is Rep. Kim Nam-kuk, a defendant in a case on illegitimate donations to massive rallies against Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. Rep. Choi Kang-wook from the Open Democratic Party, an ally of the DP, also sponsored the bill after he was sentenced to eight months in jail with a stay of execution for two years for his involvement in issuing a fake certificate to former Justice Minister Cho Kuk's son to help him get admitted to a top university. That conviction may cost his seat in the legislature. Choi has appealed.

The ruling camp's push for a separate investigation office to investigate grave crimes is contradictory, as the bill is aimed at depriving the prosecution of its authority to look into six key crimes, including corruption and election fraud. But the new Prosecution Act guarantees prosecutors will directly investigate those six grave crimes.

It is ridiculous that the DP is rushing to neutralize the very law it passed as part of prosecution reforms it vigorously promotes. As Moon's senior secretary for civil affairs in 2018, former Justice Minister Cho even accepted the prosecution's jurisdiction over the six grave crimes.

The reason for the DP's attempt to set up a separate investigation entity is obvious. The DP wants to prevent the prosecution from looking into corruption by its own members. The Blue House is reportedly outraged over the prosecution's indictment of former Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu after he was allegedly involved in deleting sensitive files about the government's plan to shut down the Wolseong-1 reactor as part of Moon's campaign for a nuclear phase-out.

As DP lawmakers indirectly admitted, they fear the prosecution's investigations of their own wrongdoings. After taking advantage of the top law enforcement agency's superb capabilities to dig into corruption by the past conservative administration since taking power in 2017, the DP is afraid of the prosecution aiming its sharp sword at its own illegalities.

The DP lawmakers' personal grudge with the prosecution also helped provoke them to submit the bill. But if an investigative body handling those grave crimes is launched on top of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO), which is expected to be fully functioning by April, the prosecution will basically be dismantled. People will not just sit by if the DP pushes such a self-serving bill so brazenly.
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