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Moon gov’t defends redistribution of investigative power

Mar 09,2019
The rift between the prosecution and the administration is growing over President Moon Jae-in’s initiative to redistribute investigative power, as the ruling party and Blue House criticized prosecutors Thursday for resisting a proposal to establish regional autonomous police.

After the prosecution decried the autonomous police plan created by the Blue House, related ministries and the ruling Democratic Party (DP), DP lawmakers did not hide their anger.

“We will submit a bill to establish the autonomous police system soon,” Rep. Hong Ik-pyo of the DP told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday. “It is not much different from what we announced last month.”

Other lawmakers of the ruling party also said the prosecution was mounting its final stand, calling its attempt to stop law enforcement reform absurd.

Last month, the ministries, Blue House and DP jointly announced a grand plan aimed at overhauling powerful law enforcement authorities by redistributing investigative power. The autonomous police system is a part of the plan to redistribute investigative powers between the prosecution and police.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, however, is lobbying against the plan. In a statement to the National Assembly on Tuesday, it called the proposal unacceptable due to its “lack of efficiency and unsuitability.”

The Justice Ministry apparently tried to control the prosecutors’ resistance. Before sending the statement, the prosecution asked the ministry to approve it last month. The ministry, then, sent it back for rewriting, sources said, indicating that the initial draft objected more forcefully to the plan.

“Because the ministry sent the statement back, it arrived at the legislature late,” said a source from the National Assembly. “There is discord between the ministry and the prosecution.”

Justice Minister Park Sang-ki is an academic who never worked as a prosecutor. The Blue House also warned against the prosecution’s resistance, pointing out that it has no stake in the matter.

“The Presidential Committee on Autonomy and Decentralization has the legal power to design the autonomous police system,” said a presidential aide. “Different from the issue of redistributing investigative powers, there is no need to discuss the autonomous police plan with the prosecutors.”

The Special Act on Local Autonomy and Decentralization and Restructuring of Local Administrative Systems stipulates that “the state shall introduce an autonomous police system to secure connectivity between local administrations and the security administration and provide security services fit for characteristics of each region.” This means the presidential committee is in charge of forming the autonomous police. While the finance minister, interior and safety minister and minister of government policy coordination are standing members of the committee, the justice minister, who oversees the prosecution, is not a member.

“When the plan was first created, the prosecution demanded that a federal structure for the autonomous police system be a precondition of the realignment of investigative authority,” said another senior official of the Blue House. “All ministries thought it was excessive, so it was not accepted.”

Under the current government plan, regional government heads will oversee autonomous police in their jurisdiction to handle public order and traffic cases, while the National Police Agency will oversee larger investigations. Complaining that the plan will only make the police more powerful, the prosecution has demanded that more autonomy should be given to local police, while the National Police Agency play a minimum role.

The police have criticized the prosecution for its attempt to dismantle the national police system.

President Moon Jae-in is also critical of the prosecution’s demand. At a reform strategy meeting with the National Intelligence Service, prosecution and police last month, Moon said, “It is impossible to immediately achieve 100 percent, complete redistribution of investigative power and a 100 percent perfect autonomous police system.

“Because we are not a federal state and because we have not done this before, there are many concerns,” Moon said.

Moon, who served as the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs and chief of staff during the Roh Moo-hyun presidency, is a strong believer that the Blue House must take the initiative to reform the prosecution. In a book he co-authored, Moon wrote that Roh’s attempt to redistribute investigative powers failed because the Blue House did not take control and instead let the prosecution and the police negotiate.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]