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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 18)

All News 07:05 April 18, 2022

Scrap controversial bill
It is reckless to deprive prosecution of investigative powers

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is facing a strong backlash over its unilateral legislative move to deprive the state prosecution of investigative powers. Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo tendered his resignation Sunday in protest against a DPK-proposed bill aimed at turning the prosecution into a toothless tiger only with the authority to indict criminal suspects.

Kim's resignation came two days after the DPK presented the bill to the National Assembly. He said in a statement that his move will serve as an opportunity for lawmakers to closely review the highly sensitive issue. The party should take Kim's resignation seriously. Kim has represented the prosecution's strong objection to the DPK's reckless push to weaken the law enforcement agency by completely stripping its investigative power. He has already vowed to do all he can to block the bill, denouncing it as a "direct violation of the Constitution."

Now the DPK should reconsider its legislative process. It has invited criticism not only from the prosecution, but also from the Korean Bar Association and Lawyers for a Democratic Society. People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, the country's largest civic group, is also against the bill.

More importantly, the opposition People Power Party (PPP) has vowed to foil the bill by resorting to a filibuster at the Assembly. President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's transition committee also denounced the DPK's legislative move as an "act of destroying the Constitution." Yoon's nominee for justice minister, Han Dong-hoon, said that the bill should not be passed because it would only end up hurting ordinary people who lack power.

It is irrational and irresponsible for the DPK to try to railroad the bill through the Assembly in the name of prosecutorial reform with less than one month before the new government takes office on May 10. No legislative process can be justified if it is passed unilaterally. The DPK is under attack for pushing for the bill too hurriedly without reaching any national consensus. It has never sought to hold any public hearing or discussion with opposition lawmakers and experts. The party has even failed to gain support from the minor progressive Justice Party.

It is wrong if the majority party thinks that it can do anything it wants with its 172 seats in the 300-member National Assembly. The DPK should undergo a due legislation process. Otherwise it cannot avoid criticism for attempting to pass the bill to prevent prosecution under the Yoon administration from launching investigations into allegations of corruption and abuse of power raised against the Moon government.

Under the banner of prosecutorial reform, the Moon administration set up the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) to end the prosecution's monopoly on indictments. It also already weakened the prosecution's function by allowing the agency to investigate only six major crimes, including corruption, economic irregularities and election law violations.

If the bill becomes law, the prosecution will be left with the authority to indict suspects, while police will be in charge of conducting investigations of almost all criminal cases. This could raise a problem of concentrating investigative power on the police. So the DPK should refrain from passing the bill. Instead, it needs to draft a new bill that can make the prosecution carry out fair investigations without abusing its power. It is more urgent to promote the prosecution's political neutrality and independence in order to ensure the rule of law.

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