+ A

Strange prosecutorial reforms (KOR)

Nov 16,2019
Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk was questioned by the prosecution on Thursday for his involvement in the 15 criminal counts against his wife Chung Kyung-sim. Many suspect that he could not have been ignorant of the dubious family investment and the academic records of his children. The former justice minister has the duty to tell the truth. But the way he responded to the prosecution’s interrogations — and the way the government and ruling Democratic Party (DP) held a joint meeting to achieve prosecutorial reforms the same day — is hard to comprehend.

Cho was expected to speak about his position to the press upon arriving at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office. But he did not enter the building through the main entrance. Instead, he came in through the basement parking lot which was used by his wife when she had been summoned to the prosecution. Cho also refused to answer questions from prosecutors, citing his rights as a witness.

On the same day Cho was summoned to the prosecution, the government and ruling party held a meeting to examine “developments on prosecutorial reforms.” The DP and government in the meeting vowed to expedite prosecutorial reforms. DP floor leader Lee In-young said the prosecution reform cannot be reversed or slowed. Deputy Justice Minister Kim Oh-soo also said prosecutorial reform was a “mission of the generation.” Why did the government and ruling party hold that meeting on the very day when Cho was summoned if they had not aimed to pressure the prosecution? Is their prosecutorial reform designed to protect Cho?

Their so-called reform outline is also baffling. The guideline which requires Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl to report to the justice minister on the progress of his probe could seriously undermine the neutrality and independence of the prosecution’s investigations. If the Justice Ministry wields greater influence over the prosecution, the presidential — and political — influence will become greater. The idea of eliminating the prosecution’s departments that can investigate cases on their own is also alarming. How can the government combat corruption and crimes involving election, drugs and finance if it solely relies on complaint files after losing its direct investigation authority? Closing down offices without alternative measures is a heedless decision.

Prosecutors protest the government’s reform ideas because it did not discuss it with them. Prosecutors are rumored to take a collective action against the move. If the reform is designed to weaken the investigative power of the prosecution, it will only backfire. Reform to serve political purpose cannot succeed.