|Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae arrives at her office in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday morning./ Yonhap|
By Kim Se-jeong
President Moon Jae-in indicated he will speed up efforts to complete the much-touted reform of the prosecution. Moon sided with Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, Tuesday, who has been engaged in a high-profile dispute with Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, showing his determination to accelerate prosecutorial reform.
Speaking at a nationally televised press conference, Moon said, "The prosecution has the right to investigate, but the justice minister and president have the right to appoint the people to carry out the investigation. Just as the chief prosecutor's right should be respected, so should the president's and minister's rights."
Moon's open support for Choo is expected to widen the gap between the prosecution and Cheong Wa Dae over investigations into Moon's close aides.
Also commenting on a recent rift between Yoon and Choo over the prosecutorial reassignment, Moon again supported Choo. "The minister gave the chief prosecutor the opportunity to express his opinion. It is highly inappropriate for the top prosecutor to ask the minister first to present the list of prosecutors to be reassigned."
The president indirectly criticized the prosecution for being selectively hard on certain investigations.
"The investigation should be done thoroughly. There's no doubt about it and it will win the trust of the people. But it would be unfair if the prosecutors are hard on certain investigations and go easy on others."
By that, Moon meant ongoing investigations into Cheong Wa Dae over election-meddling allegations versus the prosecution's investigation into former Deputy Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui who was recently acquitted. Kim was arrested last May with accusations that he had received prostitution services and other bribes from businessmen seven years ago but went free late last year.
"Given what has happened recently, it's time for the prosecution to do some self-reflection."
Moon's comment came less than a day after the Ministry of Justice announced the prosecution office's reorganizational plan, in another development in Choo's move to weaken the prosecution. Choo Mi-ae insisted the move be necessary for the prosecution reformation. The plan needs approval from the National Assembly to be implemented.
According to the plan, 41 departments with the power to investigate were whittled down to 28. Among the 13 departments to vanish are ones that were looking into corruption scandals involving Moon's close aides. For example, the investigation into former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family members will involve only two departments, down from four under the current structure. The ministry said the key to the reorganization was to redirect resources to handlings of criminal cases and trials.
Also on Monday night, the National Assembly passed a revised bill on criminal procedure, another significant development to take power away from the prosecution. According to the revised legislation, the prosecution no longer has the right to spearhead investigations, except for certain designated cases. The police will have the investigative power and the prosecution must respect the results.
"Despite the legislative change, the prosecution still has a lot of power which should be shared. That's why prosecutorial reform is important. The essence of the reform is to make the prosecution give up abnormal power," Moon said. The reform of the prosecution was one of Moon's key campaign pledges.