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Partisan strife looms over police-prosecution power reform

Jan. 5, 2020 - 15:39 By Park Han-na
A partisan battle looms over the National Assembly this week on how to reshape investigative powers of the nation’s two law enforcement agencies. The ruling Democratic Party plans to introduce a bill on the revision of the Criminal Procedure Code to curb the power of prosecutors, the last piece in President Moon Jae-in’s judicial reform initiatives.

The revision is designed to expand the authority of police in criminal investigations and scrap the prosecution’s power to command probes, in a bid to reshape their vertical relations into a horizontal and mutually cooperative one. By law, all criminal investigations by police are required to be under the command of prosecutors.

Democratic Party Floor Leader Lee In-young (Yonhap)

The prosecution has the power to both investigate and indict, while police have no independent investigative authority.

On Sunday, Democratic Party Floor Leader Lee In-young said he will request National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang to convene a plenary session Monday.

The ruling party has been pushing to provide parliamentary support for President Moon Jae-in’s drive to reform the prosecution. At the end of December, a bill calling for the creation of a new investigative organization to check the power of the prosecution in probes of suspected corruption by all top-ranking government officials was passed.

“The process of finalizing the prosecution reform legislation, which began with the passage of the bill on establishing a new investigative body, cannot be put off,” Lee said in a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul.

In December, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party fiercely protested against the bill with a filibuster, but a collective push by the Democratic Party, three minor parties and one splinter group gathered enough votes to pass the bill.

“It is very regrettable that the Liberty Korea Party is only actively engaging in open-air rallies while taking passive action in consultation and talks (with other parties),” Lee said.

Lee said he would have no other way but to seek a majority vote with other parties again if his party is unable to complete legislation for reform and the people’s livelihood by reaching an agreement with the opposition party.

During Monday’s plenary meeting, he said he will introduce a set of proposals -- five bills that are on a parliamentary fast track, including two bills related to rearranging investigative rights and three kindergarten-related bills, as well as other bills linked to the people’s livelihood.

While the ruling party is making last-ditch efforts for legislation, newly appointed Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae is seeking to tighten her grip through an internal revamp of the prosecution.

Choo, who took office Friday, is expected to announce a reshuffle of high-ranking officials at the prosecution this week.

The Justice Ministry plans to hold a meeting of the prosecution’s nomination committee on Monday to discuss the promotion and transfer of senior officials above the level of director of the Prosecutors’ Office.

While the scale of the personnel reshuffle is unknown, the smallest number of positions that could be subjected to the overhaul will be seven seats that are currently vacant.