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[Editorial] Prosecution reform

The confrontation between lawmakers and prosecutors over the fate of the Central Investigation Department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has taken a new turn following the presidential office’s opposition to the parliamentary bid to scrap the powerful investigation unit.

The presidential office advocated on Monday the continued existence of the CID, saying that the prosecution needs a strong investigation arm to tackle large-scale corruption cases that transcend the jurisdictions of regional prosecutors’ offices.

Presidential aides also said the CID really comes into its own when investigating cases involving those who hold the levers of political power, since its investigators, accountable only to the prosecutor general, can probe political heavyweights without flinching.

The presidential office’s stance was in line with that of the prosecution. Referring to the Friday decision by the National Assembly’s prosecution reform subcommittee to disband the CID, Prosecutor General Kim Joon-kyu said he could not accept “a future situation where small corruption cases are punished while big ones are overlooked.”

Taking their cue from Cheong Wa Dae, some 50 lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party called for a general meeting of the party’s lawmakers to thrash out the party’s official stance on the issue. They were determined to overturn the agreement reached between the ruling and opposition lawmakers of the subcommittee.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik also joined the government backlash Tuesday, saying whether the CID should be abolished or not is a matter that should be handled by the administration, not by the National Assembly.

In contrast, the main opposition Democratic Party renewed its resolve to dissolve the CID. Denouncing Cheong Wa Dae’s belated intervention, the party’s lawmakers suspected a secret deal between the presidential office and the prosecution over the ongoing investigation into the savings bank scandal.

Their scenario had Cheong Wa Dae offering to ensure the continued existence of the CID in return for the prosecution’s pledge to prevent the flames of the corruption scandal from engulfing officials of the presidential office. Presidential aides flat out denied the allegations.

The arguments put forward by the presidential office and the prosecution may have some valid points. But it can be noted that they only emphasize the positive side of the CID and turn a completely deaf ear to the call for reform that would ensure the political neutrality of the prosecution.

This attitude is really disappointing, given that relations between the presidential office and the prosecution have been dangerously cozy under the incumbent government.

When it comes to the relationship between Cheong Wa Dae and the prosecution, President Roh Moo-hyun set a fine example. Roh declared at the beginning of his tenure that he would never politically abuse his clout on the so-called four powerful agencies ― the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, the National Tax Service, the National Police Headquarters and the National Intelligence Service. Throughout his tenure, Roh tried to keep his promise.

But the Lee government consigned this example to the dustbin. As a result, the prosecution has often come under fire for failing to use its investigative power fairly in handling politically sensitive cases. This is what motivated lawmakers to start their push for prosecution reform in February last year.

If the government has no intention of abusing the prosecution’s power, it ought to be more willing to accommodate proposals aimed at ensuring its political neutrality and independence. If the parliamentary scheme to kill the CID is hard to accept, it should come up with alternatives instead of sticking to the status quo.

In the coming weeks, the debate on the CID will heat up among lawmakers, prosecutors and government officials. What they need to remember is that the public expect them to reach a silver bullet solution that would guarantee the prosecution’s neutrality without impairing its power to combat big corruption.
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