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Prosecution system faces major surgery

<span>Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam enters the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul, Wednesday, the day Moon Jae-in was officially elected as Korea's new president. / Yonhap</span><br /><br />
Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam enters the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul, Wednesday, the day Moon Jae-in was officially elected as Korea's new president. / Yonhap

By Jung Min-ho


After Moon Jae-in was elected as Korea's new president Wednesday, his campaign pledges for major reform have now become a reality for the prosecution.

He may take the first step by firing Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam, who has apparently failed to regain public trust in the prosecution during its investigation into the Choi Soon-sil scandal.

Woo Byung-woo, former prosecutor who has wide connections within the institution, is the only key suspect who remains out of prison. Many people suspect the prosecution didn't try hard enough to investigate Woo, who knows many of its "dirty secrets," in order to conceal its own wrongdoings.

Moon promised two things. First, he said he will remove all or part of its investigative powers. He also plans to establish an independent body that can investigate and indict high-ranking government officials, including senior prosecutors.

He has said prosecutors exercise boundless discretion in making crucial decisions, including how to investigate cases themselves or by directing police, whether criminal charges should be filed and what the charges should be, without having their powers checked.

Prosecutors also have the power to decide whether to close an investigation. Police officers are able to investigate cases but need a prosecutor's permission to end it. Given the power structure, it is difficult to expect the two organizations to hold each other in check.

Moon believes keeping each other mutually checked is possible by allowing police officers to exercise more ― or exclusive ― investigative powers while prosecutors keep the power to indict suspects.

According to a survey conducted last year by Realmeter, a local pollster, 69.1 percent said they support the idea of creating an independent organization for corruption cases involving high-ranking government officials, while only 16.4 percent said they are against it.

The prosecution has long been criticized for going easy on the cases involving its own people and being "too political" in cases involving people close to powerful figures who can sway influence over its personnel matters.

The creation of such an organization is expected to help resolve the problem as it keeps track of top-level prosecutors' conduct.

Moon tried to reform the prosecution under the Roh Moo-hyun administration to protect its independence. But he failed largely because he did so without diffusing its powers.

It takes a great willingness to reform the prosecution. In fact, many presidential candidates promised it but have done little to change things once they take power.

Once the prosecution takes their side, observers say, they fell into the temptation to use the powerful institution for their interest instead of reforming it.

Now all eyes are on how the new president will respond to the temptation.

<span>Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam enters the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul, Wednesday, the day Moon Jae-in was officially elected as Korea's new president. / Yonhap</span><br /><br />
Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam enters the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul, Wednesday, the day Moon Jae-in was officially elected as Korea's new president. / Yonhap

By Jung Min-ho


After Moon Jae-in was elected as Korea's new president Wednesday, his campaign pledges for major reform have now become a reality for the prosecution.

He may take the first step by firing Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam, who has apparently failed to regain public trust in the prosecution during its investigation into the Choi Soon-sil scandal.

Woo Byung-woo, former prosecutor who has wide connections within the institution, is the only key suspect who remains out of prison. Many people suspect the prosecution didn't try hard enough to investigate Woo, who knows many of its "dirty secrets," in order to conceal its own wrongdoings.

Moon promised two things. First, he said he will remove all or part of its investigative powers. He also plans to establish an independent body that can investigate and indict high-ranking government officials, including senior prosecutors.

He has said prosecutors exercise boundless discretion in making crucial decisions, including how to investigate cases themselves or by directing police, whether criminal charges should be filed and what the charges should be, without having their powers checked.

Prosecutors also have the power to decide whether to close an investigation. Police officers are able to investigate cases but need a prosecutor's permission to end it. Given the power structure, it is difficult to expect the two organizations to hold each other in check.

Moon believes keeping each other mutually checked is possible by allowing police officers to exercise more ― or exclusive ― investigative powers while prosecutors keep the power to indict suspects.

According to a survey conducted last year by Realmeter, a local pollster, 69.1 percent said they support the idea of creating an independent organization for corruption cases involving high-ranking government officials, while only 16.4 percent said they are against it.

The prosecution has long been criticized for going easy on the cases involving its own people and being "too political" in cases involving people close to powerful figures who can sway influence over its personnel matters.

The creation of such an organization is expected to help resolve the problem as it keeps track of top-level prosecutors' conduct.

Moon tried to reform the prosecution under the Roh Moo-hyun administration to protect its independence. But he failed largely because he did so without diffusing its powers.

It takes a great willingness to reform the prosecution. In fact, many presidential candidates promised it but have done little to change things once they take power.

Once the prosecution takes their side, observers say, they fell into the temptation to use the powerful institution for their interest instead of reforming it.

Now all eyes are on how the new president will respond to the temptation.

Jung Min-ho mj6c2@koreatimes.co.kr

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