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Opposition moves to defend NIS

Parties, prosecutors want agency to retain investigative powers
Jan 17,2018
President Moon Jae-in’s initiative to redistribute investigative powers from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and prosecution to police and overhaul the judicial system is facing strong resistance by opposition parties, prosecutors and members of the intelligence community.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party will create a team to challenge the reform by recruiting experts and lawyers such as lawyers Lee Wan-kyu and Hwang Seong-wook and Reps. Joo Kwang-deok and Chang Je-won.

Lee is a former prosecutor who gained national popularity in 2003 by publicly expressing concern that politicians would soon be able to influence the appointments of prosecutors. He left the prosecution in August, complaining of the Blue House’s influence over appointments. Hwang had represented former President Park Geun-hye during her impeachment trial.

Civic groups and scholars will also join the team, which will have its meeting on Thursday.

“We recruited experts of criminal systems and the Constitution,” a Liberty Korea Party official said. “They will help us adjust the powers between the prosecution and police, establish a new authority to probe crimes of senior public officials and on judicial reform.”

According to the party, the team will create an alternative plan to replace the Moon administration’s reform proposals. Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Meong-su, Justice Minister Park Sang-ki and Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk are leading the reform initiatives.

Kim, appointed by Moon in September, promised to overhaul the judiciary’s rigid hierarchy, particularly the promotion system of judges.

Justice Minister Park Sang-ki and Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il are pushing for reform of the justice system to remove influence by the prosecution.

Cho also announced a plan on Sunday for police to take over the NIS’ long-held ability to go after spies and pro-North Korea operatives. He also said police will be allowed to open and close first investigations, which used to be up to the prosecution.

On Tuesday, Chairman Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party criticized Cho about the plan. “Because he failed to pass the bar exam, he is abusing his power now to weaken the prosecution,” said Hong, a former prosecutor himself. He also said the NIS’s right to investigate anti-North Korea cases must be preserved. “Checks and balances are important to manage powers. They must never be given to one organization.”

After the Blue House made the announcement on the reform, the Liberty Korea Party criticized the Moon administration for skipping the required discussions at the National Assembly. It said the Blue House was issuing an order and the ruling Democratic Party will uphold it, making the special committee on judicial reform useless.

The committee was supposed to meet on Tuesday to finalize the legislative schedule for the judicial reform this week, but no meeting took place.

The NIS showed concern about Moon’s plan to hand over its anti-North Korea investigation authority to the police. “If police have the authority, it will be able to monopolize information,” a former senior official of the service told the JoongAng Ilbo. “If police were mammoth before, now they’ll become a dinosaur.”

Members of the NIS also worry about the police’s capabilities. “Capturing a spy is an extremely difficult mission,” said another former senior official of the NIS. “It was considered an honor to catch a spy during my 30 years in the intelligence office. You have to follow the North’s strategy and movements for a decade at least, and normally two to three decades.”

He said the job is hard for the police, who are used to handling simple investigations. “There is a big difference between the prosecution and the police, which acts to promote legitimacy, and the NIS, which acts to serve a purpose. If the police handle anti-North Korea investigations, the mission will be incapacitated.”

Jun Ok-hyun, former professor at Seoul National University and former first deputy director of the NIS, also said North Korea’s operations against the South are advancing day by day. “Anti-North Korea investigations cannot be a subject of experiment,” he said.

“The Liberty Korea Party strongly opposes the change, and the People’s Party and the Bareun Party, which have the decisive votes, are not also favorable to the bill,” said a National Assembly official who is well-informed about NIS affairs. “The NIS appeared to have some expectation that the reform plan will not go through.”

The prosecution also showed concern that the Blue House’s plan will seriously damage its status. “We will no longer be considered as strong prosecutors who fight against big evils such as high-profile politicians and government officials when a new investigation body for senior public officials’ crimes will be created and investigative authorities are handed over to the police,” a prosecutor in Seoul said.

The prosecution was dealt another blow on Monday when eight senior prosecutors were reshuffled. Veteran prosecutors who built their careers based on anti-state cases were sent to less important posts. “It almost felt like a demotion,” an official of the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office said.

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