An agency to investigate corruption cases involving high-ranking officials exclusively instead of the prosecution is likely in breach of the Constitution.
Related legislative procedures last year were undemocratic. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea secretly promised to help revise the election law in favor of minor parties in return for their cooperation in passing the agency bill. The National Assembly speaker approved a forcible resignation of a lawmaker who vowed to vote down the bill in the relevant subcommittee.
The Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials -- CIO for short -- is a government organization whose creation must not be rushed due to concerns over damage to the constitutional government and abuse of the agency for dictatorship.
But the ruling party is pushing hard to launch the agency almost unilaterally on the back of its overwhelming parliamentary majority.
It scares and nitpicks the main opposition party over the issue. Despite opposing the creation of the new powerful investigative body, the People Power Party named two nominators of candidates for the CIO head on Tuesday.
It was a desperate move to protect anything of constitutionalism. Holding out against the Democratic Party’s pressure, the People Power Party had delayed the choice of candidate selectors. It demanded the ruling party agree to appoint a special counsel to investigate private equity fund frauds as a condition of cooperating in launching the agency. However, the ruling party rejected the demand, and threatened to revise the CIO law to strip the opposition party of the right to name two nominators if the nomination deadline set by the Democratic Party passes. The opposition party changed its course and chose its candidate pickers. Now, the Democratic Party warns them “not to get in the way of setting up the investigative office.”
Rep. Yun Ho-jung of the Democratic Party, chair of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, said that if the opposition’s electors veto CIO head candidates, the Democratic Party cannot wait forever. He added the party plans to keep discussing how to revise the agency law.
The ruling party threatens to revise the law to eliminate the People Power Party nominators’ veto of CIO head candidates if the agency is not launched within next January -- a date also set by the Democratic Party at its own accord.
The Democratic Party’s threats veil its ulterior motive of appointing a figure on its side to the top of the investigation agency.
Under the CIO law now in force, seven nominators recommend two CIO head candidates to the president. The ruling and opposition parties each name two nominators. The other three are chosen by the justice minister, chief of the national court administration and president of the Korean Bar Association. A candidate for head of the CIO must win the consent of at least six of the seven nominators.
Last year when the ruling party and minor opposition parties fast-tracked the CIO bill unilaterally, the ruling party recognized the main opposition party’s veto of CIO head candidates in a bid to calm concerns about the agency’s neutrality.
Under a proposal by some ruling party lawmakers for a CIO law amendment, the “ruling and opposition parties each name two selectors” would be changed to the “National Assembly names four nominators.” The quorum for the resolution of two CIO head candidates would be cut from six to five.
Also, the number of CIO prosecutors is to increase from 25 to anywhere between 30 and 50. The minimum work experience would be reduced from 10 years as a lawyer to five years, a move expected to draw more lawyers belonging to Minbyon, or Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a group of progressive lawyers.
The bill is a change for the worse because it strips the opposition party of its veto, which is a minimum safety device to guarantee the political neutrality of the agency.
The CIO law itself goes against the Constitution in that the head of the CIO, though not a constitutional institution, restricts the authority of and holds superiority to the prosecutor general, which is a constitutional institution.
There are concerns that the agency may be abused to cover up for suspects loyal to the ruling camp. To check it from wielding absolute investigative power, the opposition party’s veto must be maintained.