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Justice Ministry details investigation authority

Oct 16,2017
The Ministry of Justice announced Sunday its proposal for a new investigative authority to probe crimes of senior public officials, largely curtailing the organization’s manpower from the initial plan.

The new investigative authority devoted to combating corruption among senior public servants will be an independent agency that will not belong to the administration, legislature and judiciary in order to protect its political integrity, the ministry said. It will be given the right to investigate, indict and maintain indictment just like the prosecution. Its jurisdiction will cover top members of public offices including the incumbent president.

The ministry said it had formed a task force to draft the plan shortly after an in-house reform committee of the Justice Ministry and prosecution made a recommendation to create an agency stronger than the prosecution and police. The team reviewed various proposals including the plan and bills pending at the National Assembly and created the ministry’s bill.

President Moon Jae-in has vowed to create a new investigative authority to probe into the corruption of senior public officials, a promise made by many past leaders - including his conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye - but never kept. The initiative has gained momentum after the ministry announced its own bill.

According to the ministry’s proposal, the new authority will not uphold the principle of compulsory prosecution, as the prosecution currently does under the criminal litigation laws. Its prosecutors will have their own discretion in pressing charges against their high-profile suspects.

In order to prevent abuse of the discretionary power, a committee of outsiders will be established inside the authority to conduct mandatory evaluations before dropping a charge. A court will also provide oversight by allowing an appeal to the decision.

While the initial proposal by the reform committee of the ministry and the prosecution said the authority should have up to 122 employees including 50 prosecutors, the Justice Ministry largely cut the number in its bill.

According to the plan, the new authority will have one head and one deputy as well as 25 prosecutors. The number will allow the authority to operate about three investigation teams. There will be 50 support staff, including 30 investigators.

The National Assembly will recommend two candidates to head the new investigative authority and the speaker will select one of them based on consultations with major parties. If no agreement is reached, the speaker will recommend the two candidates to the president to make a choice. A confirmation hearing is mandatory.

The new authority’s head and deputy will serve a single three-year term, and prosecutors assigned to the authority will serve three years with three possible extensions.

Senior public officials who will be investigated by the authority will include the incumbent president as well as the prime minister, lawmakers, chief justice and justices of the Supreme Court and heads of metropolitan cities and provincial government offices as well as political appointees of the Office of the Government Policy Coordination, Prime Minister’s Secretariat and central ministries.

Former military generals and senior police officers are also covered by the law as well as senior officials of the Blue House Secretariat, Presidential Security Service, National Security Office and National Intelligence Service. Incumbent military generals will be investigated by military prosecutors.

If the head of the new authority asks other investigative agencies to hand over a case, they will be required to follow orders. It can also hand over cases to other agencies if it is deemed more appropriate.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]