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Moon preparing plan to reform the criminal justice system

Mar 28,2018
The Moon Jae-in administration’s reforms of the criminal justice system entered their final stage, as top officials discussed a plan to increase the police’s autonomy in investigations while reducing the oversight role of prosecutors.

Reforming the prosecution after regular corruption and abuse of power scandals over the years is a key goal for Moon. He promised to realign the investigative powers of the prosecution and police, and speculation has grown that a draft plan is being finalized.

Justice Minister Park Sang-ki, Interior and Security Minister Kim Boo-kyum and Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk had several meetings this month to discuss the issue, but Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il did not participate, government sources said.

“The prosecution is practically left out of the process, so we have nothing to say,” an official at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday.

The Justice Ministry reportedly completed a draft of a plan as if it was a consensus between the prosecution and the police, but the prosecutor general doesn’t seem to have had an opportunity to consult with Park to convey the prosecutors’ position.

The turf war between the police and prosecution has gone on for nearly 20 years. The most contentious issue is separating and redistributing investigative and prosecutorial powers, as Korean prosecutors have both. The police, who often conduct initial probes, say their roles should be redefined so they are more powerful in investigations and prosecutors come in at the indictment stage.

Moon’s intention to weaken the prosecution’s power was seen when the Blue House announced the president’s bill to amend the Constitution last week. Moon proposed that a clause in the Constitution that gives the prosecution the exclusive right to seek a warrant should be removed.

According to the sources, the reform plan, recently drafted by the government, will allow the police to formally challenge a prosecutor’s rejection of its request to apply for a warrant. A judgment will be made by a committee at a high prosecutors’ office comprising neutral, outside experts.

The prosecution’s right to command police investigations will be curtailed, they said. As of now, the prosecution supervises the police during its investigations. When the prosecution demands, the police must hand over a case, even before it is closed.

The prosecutors will still have substantial control over probes of financial crimes, the sources said.

Speculation also grew that the prosecution’s exclusive right to conclude an investigation will be scrapped to grant the police more discretion to decide on whether an indictment is necessary or not.

“It seems that we won’t have to automatically send all cases to the prosecution,” Police Commissioner General Lee Chul-sung said Monday. “There is talk that the prosecution’s exclusive right to close a case is being challenged.”

The police have been acting more aggressively in recent months. With only weeks left before June 13 local elections, the police are carrying out investigations of heads of three local governments in Ulsan and South Gyeongsang.

A case in Ulsan was particularly controversial because the police raided the Ulsan Metropolitan Government after the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) decided to let Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon seek re-election as its candidate. The Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency is currently headed by Hwang Un-ha, an advocate of stronger autonomy for the police in investigations.

A senior prosecution official said the investigation is troubling because of its potential political impact. According to prosecution sources, the prosecution initially struck down the police’s requests for search and seizure warrants against incumbent heads of local governments, but the police were persistent.

As speculation grew about the Moon administration’s plan, the Blue House tried to calm the situation.

“No conclusion has been made yet on the realignment of the investigative powers between the prosecution and police,” Cho said Tuesday. “We are still discussing the issue, and the opinions of the prosecution and police are being collected.”

Cho said the reforms will be pushed forward based on Moon’s presidential pledges.

BY SER MYO-JA, KIM YOUNG-MIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]