Prosecutor General Kim Joon-gyu on Monday expressed his willingness to step down from his position in protest against political circles’ attempt to weaken his organization’s status.
If his offer to resign is accepted, Kim will be the highest ranking and the sixth prosecutor to quit over the recent passage of a bill empowering police officers by sharing investigation rights currently exclusive to the prosecution.
“I take the full responsibility in prosecutors’ commotions whirling over the passage of the revision of Criminal Procedure Code,” Kim said at a press briefing held at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in southern Seoul.
“This is also to prevent other talented prosecutors from making hasty decisions (resignations) with regard to the incident.” he added.
After the announcement, Kim presided over a meeting of high-ranking prosecutors and left the building. Insiders said he has filed for holiday leave until the acceptance of his resignation is finalized.
Kim’s announcement came a month before his due retirement slated for Aug. 19. He will be the 10th prosecutor general to quit before serving his full term. His predecessor Lim Chai-jin stepped down in 2009 over the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun, who protested the prosecution’s excessive investigation and interrogations into a bribery scandal.
Rumors about Kim’s resignation flew last week when five of his aides and high ranking officials ― Hong Man-pyo, Kim Hong-il, Shin Jong-dae, Cho Young-gon and Jeong Byeong-du ― tendered their resignations while denouncing the National Assembly last Thursday for passing the Criminal Procedure Code revision after twisting it at the last minute. The law allows police to open investigations.
Prosecutors were perplexed by the last minute modification led by the parliamentary judiciary committee to set the details under presidential decrees than the originally agreed justice minister’s orders. “If details on prosecutors’ command of police investigation are determined by a justice minister, the prosecution will be able to practically ignore or refuse any changes in the field. But if they are set by the President, they will have to obey and accept it. The shift means a groundbreaking alteration in the overall structure,” officials said.
The passage was hailed as a bid to bring fresh life into the uptight and reclusive structure of the prosecution, but on the other hand invited shrewd criticism from prosecutors for attempting to sully their political neutrality.
Prosecutors and police officers have been engaged in a battle over authority in investigations over the past several years. While the prosecutors claimed that empowering police officers with more rights could result in excessive and unnecessary investigations, the police refuted that prosecutors need to be monitored and balanced by the police in some cases. Lawmakers also agreed that the prosecutors have been making politically biased decisions in major probes.
Kim’s resignation also triggered fierce dispute.
“Right after the passage of the bill, Kim told President Lee Myung-bak that he would quit. But Lee asked him to stay and soothe the internal organization,” a Cheong Wa Dae official was quoted as saying to a local daily.
“It is a clear protest against the administration. All he had to do is stay for a month,” he said.
Another prosecutor, who declined to be named, said, “The internal disarray has reached an intolerable level. The resignation will alert the whole organization.”
By Bae Ji-sook (email@example.com)