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Prosecution hits back against plan for police

They see Moon gov’t scheme as imperiling investigative power
Mar 07,2019
The Moon Jae-in administration’s ambitious plan to overhaul the prosecution has hit a snag as prosecutors rejected a proposal to create an autonomous regional police system.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office sent a statement to the National Assembly on Tuesday to reply to lawmakers’ recent inquiry into its position on the autonomous police plan.

“The recently announced proposal cannot be accepted for its lack of efficiency and its unsuitability to be pushed forward together with redistributing investigative powers,” the prosecution’s reply said.

Last month, the government, Blue House and the ruling Democratic Party jointly announced a grand plan aimed at overhauling powerful law enforcement authorities by redistributing investigative power and creating a new investigation body for top public servants.

The autonomous police system is a part of redistributing investigative powers between the prosecution and police.

Until now, the prosecution demanded that the police be overseen by heads of the regional governments, not by the National Police Agency, if it will have to surrender its authority to command them.

Based on the demand, the Blue House, government and ruling party created a proposal and announced it on Feb. 14. According to the government, the autonomous regional police system will be established in five cities and provinces before the end of this year as a pilot program. The system will be expanded nationwide by 2021.

As of now, the police commissioner, the head of the National Police Agency, oversees all police forces around the country. In the proposed system, the autonomous regional police will be established under local governments and will split investigative powers with the national police.

The regional autonomous police will focus on maintaining public order and traffic violations, while the National Police Agency will handle larger cases.

Once the new system is established, provincial mayors and metropolitan city mayors will be given the right to appoint the heads of the regional autonomous police.

Lawmakers on the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Judicial Reform, including Rep. Yoon Han-hong of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, recently asked the prosecution about its position on the proposal, and the prosecution made clear that it objected.

It then presented its own idea. The prosecution said all organizations smaller than provincial or metropolitan city police agencies should become autonomous regional police to concentrate on local cases.

Under the current government proposal, the regional police agencies as well as local precincts and patrol units under their jurisdictions are to remain as they are, and the prosecution worries that police investigators will outnumber those from the prosecution.

The prosecution’s rejection of the government proposal is expected to stall the National Assembly’s review of a bill, submitted earlier by the administration, to redistribute investigative powers.

The Special Committee on Judicial Reform held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the bill, which will give the police the primary investigation authority and the right to end an investigation and the prosecution’s control over a police probe, but no conclusion was made.

The Liberty Korea Party said it needs additional time to discuss the bill. The prosecution apparently started lobbying against the plan to preserve its power.

A senior official of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office visited both ruling and opposition lawmakers on the Special Committee on Judicial Reform and explained the prosecution’s position.

Last month, the prosecution also provided opposition lawmakers with reports that were critical of the current reform initiative by the Moon administration.

The ruling party suspects that the prosecutors are asking for help from the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party in order to hold onto its power.

“When we meet prosecutors, they are adamant that they will accept the establishment of a new investigative body for senior public servants, but are not handing over investigative power to the police,” said a member of the Special Committee on Judicial Reform. “The mood is so serious that Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il and other senior prosecutors are ready to submit resignations over it.”

BY HYUN IL-HOON, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]