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Interior Minister defends launch of police bureau

Lee Sang-min attacks meeting of police chiefs, compares to coup d’etat

July 25, 2022 - 15:43 By Im Eun-byel

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min speaks at a press conference held Monday at governmental complex in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The government and the ruling People Power Party continued to call out police officers opposing the new “police bureau,” with Interior Minister Lee Sang-min comparing resistance to a coup d’etat. Lee further explained the legitimacy of the launch, arguing it is an act of democracy.

Lee attacked Saturday’s meeting held by police chiefs, saying it was an act of insubordination.

“To leave one’s garrison and gather is similar to the Dec. 12 coup d’etat,” Lee said to the press Monday, referring to the military coup in 1979 through which Chun Doo-hwan rose to power.

The Interior Ministry announced it will launch a new police bureau to supervise the National Police Agency, whose authority has been recently strengthened with the prosecution losing its investigative powers.

The new bureau under the Interior Ministry will be responsible for reviewing major policies of the police agency and overseeing the agency’s plans that require enactment or revision of the law.

The plan drew criticism from the police over concerns that it may damage the neutrality and independence of the police organization, and that the bureau resembles the system from days of police brutality.

The Interior Minister defended the launch of the new bureau, saying it can be an act of democracy, in an attempt to persuade police officers who are strongly opposed to the plan.

“(Police officers) are arguing (the government) is rushing the launch of the new bureau. But it is a democratic act for the interior minister, who was appointed to the post by the president who were chosen by the people through an election, to oversee police affairs,” Lee said.

“If a bureau overseeing police affairs is not installed within the Interior Ministry, the Interior Minister cannot fulfill his duty to supervise the police, which is an authority given by the Constitution and the law,” he said

Lee denied the criticism that the new bureau would be a return of the abolished domestic security department.

“The new police bureau will be entirely different from the domestic security department from the past, which carried out security duties itself,” Lee said.

The Interior Ministry had the domestic security department under its wings until 1991 before it was spun off as an independent outside organization from the ministry to guarantee investigative independence.

Lee continued to stress that the new bureau will not intervene in police investigations at a governmental interpellation held later in the day.

When Rep. Park Bum-kye from the opposition Democratic Party of Korea asked whether he could guarantee the new bureau would not control police investigations, Lee said, “It is only fair.”

The conflict remains unresolved a week before the launch of the new bureau set for Aug. 2, but President Yoon Suk-yeol has stayed on the sidelines, not making direct comments on the matter.

Yoon said Monday, “I believe the Interior Ministry and the National Police Agency will handle the matter well, taking needed measures.”

The president’s comment was similar to that of Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Dae-ki made a day before. While speaking on the feud between the government and police with the press, Kim drew a line for Yoon, saying it is not a matter for the president to intervene.

However, the ruling party continued to attack the police and those against the launch, saying they are acting for their own good.

Rep. Kim Ki-hyun of the ruling People Power Party said the police protesting the launch of the bureau are “faithful dogs” of the past administration.

“Some from the police leadership who were ‘faithful dogs’ for the Moon Jae-in administration should reflect and earn back the trust of people before they shave their heads and revolt against commands,” Kim wrote on his social media account.

Kim said the police will be the first subject of reform for Korea to return to normalcy. “Those obsessed with anti-reform and egoism will only be eradicated,” Kim wrote.

Meanwhile, the police organization continues to protest the launch of the new bureau through collective acts.

Inspectors and assistant inspectors -- the ranks below superintendent -- across the nation are also planning to hold a meeting Saturday to showcase their will for the opposition.

“If we lose commanders who sacrifice themselves to do the right thing, we will become puppets of the regime under ‘faithful dogs’ who are blind for their own profit,” inspector Kim Seong-jong wrote on the police network platform, referring to superintendent Ryu Sam-yeong who has been ordered to go on stand-by for suggesting the meeting of police station chiefs.

By Im Eun-byel (