|Justice Minster Cho Kuk announces the ministry's plan to reform the prosecution at the Gwacheon Government Complex, Tuesday. Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
Justice Minister Cho Kuk announced a set of reform measures for the prosecution, Tuesday, mostly focusing on reducing its power and instead reinforcing that of the ministry.
The minister's reform plan was unveiled one month after he was inaugurated, Sept. 9, amid the prosecution's widening investigation into scandals involving him and his family members.
Cho's family will likely be the immediate beneficiaries of the reform measures, although it was one of President Moon Jae-in's key promises during his 2017 election campaign.
"The justice ministry will begin a drastic prosecutorial reform this month by picking top priority projects that include the prosecution's recently announced self-reform measures," Cho said during a press conference at Gwacheon Government Complex.
The measures are largely about reducing the prosecution's power to direct investigations, and refocusing the law enforcement agency toward criminal investigations and trial-related affairs. In addition, the prosecutors' practices will have to ensure that the people's human rights are protected.
As part of its effort to reduce the number of prosecution directed investigations, the ministry plans to expand the criminal and criminal trial departments, while downsizing direct investigation divisions.
"Considering the prosecution's proposal to abolish its special investigative departments, we plan to push to revise relevant regulations to allow just three offices, including the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office, to have a unit dealing with high-profile corruption cases," Cho said.
In addition, the ministry will tighten the rules on dispatching prosecutors to internal and external government agencies by having a committee review ending the unnecessary practice.
As the prosecution's investigative methods have long been criticized for violating human rights, the ministry will ban prosecutors from opening criminal investigations and carrying out long interrogations late into the night.
In addition, prosecutors will be prohibited from questioning suspects or witnesses about claims irrelevant to them and from prolonging investigations without reasonable cause. People banned from leaving the country will have a strengthened right to know the reasons for this.
The ministry also plans to strengthen supervision of the prosecution and its administrative affairs.
The announcement comes as the Moon administration is flexing its muscles to redistribute the prosecution's exclusive investigative rights to the police, while setting up an independent unit investigating crimes by top government figures and prosecutors.
The prosecution has often come under public criticism for abusing its massive investigative power while currying favor with those in power for its own interests.
On Sept. 30, Moon issued a warning to the prosecution, ordering it to map out internal reform measures as soon as possible. This was followed by a series of measures announced by Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl.
On Oct. 1, the prosecution said it would reduce the number of special investigative units, and abolish the practice of announcing the summons of suspects that allowed the media to witness their arrival for questioning.
The agency will no longer allow the press to photograph suspects or witnesses arriving for questioning and "in principle" will not question them after 9 p.m.
The reform plan coincided with the prosecution's third summons of Cho's wife earlier in the day as part of its investigation into the corruption allegations surrounding his family.
His wife, an English professor at Dongyang University, faces allegations that she forged a college presidential citation to help her daughter gain admission to medical school, and participated in dubious investments in a private equity fund (PEF).
Given the situation, the justice ministry's reform plan ― to minimize questioning sessions and end long and late-hour grilling ― is raising suspicion over its integrity.