|Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il speaks during a press conference at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seoul, Thursday. / Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
The nation's top prosecutor once again made it clear Thursday that his organization opposes the government's plan to expand the independent investigative authority of the police, saying this went against democratic principles.
But, this time, he unveiled a plan to overhaul the prosecution, highlighted by a reduction in the number of direct investigations it conducts and "redistributing" the right to start probes.
"Within any investigative organization, its power should not be expanded if it is not under the control of checks and balances," Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il said during a press conference at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seoul.
"The judiciary reform bill, currently on a fast track at the National Assembly, does not abide by the democratic principles of the criminal justice system, and raises concerns over possible failures to protect basic rights."
The press conference came amid escalating tension between the prosecution and police over the government's plan to rearrange investigative rights between the law enforcement agencies by curbing the prosecution's "unhampered" authority.
Late last month, the National Assembly fast-tracked key reform bills, including the one on expanding police authority over investigations. Moon first criticized it May 1 during an overseas trip, and has continued to express his opposition.
If the bill is passed, police would be empowered to open and close investigations without needing approval from prosecutors, which Moon claims would run counter to the democratic principles of checks and balances.
"An investigation is a means to reveal the truth, but on the other hand, it can violate the people's basic rights," he said.
"It is democratic principles that are the priority in improving the criminal justice system."
In the wake of several public statements by Moon, seen as representing the views of his subordinates, Justice Minister Park Sang-ki sent an email to senior prosecutors nationwide, Monday, urging them to refrain from publicly expressing an opinion on judiciary reform. In the email, Park instructed prosecutors not to cite inaccurate information and examples in other countries in their opposition, saying this could mislead the people about the adjustments of investigative powers.
However, Moon struck back at Park.
"What Park said means prosecutors should keep quiet. I think his act was undesirable," he said.
Also, admitting that the prosecution bears much of the responsibility for the ongoing controversy, the prosecutor-general vowed to reform the organization, by changing its procedures to more align them with democratic principles.
"We will seek to redistribute the right to open investigations, and re-open certain cases that were closed by the prosecution," he said.
In response, police criticized Moon, saying that checks and balances between the two agencies can be guaranteed by "adjusting" the investigative power.
"It is against democracy (for prosecutors) to protest publicly against a reform plan that has been fast-tracked just because their opinions were not reflected," an official of the Korean National Police Agency said.
"To accept the democratic principles which Moon cherishes, the prosecution should accept conclusions that were made in accordance with procedural legitimacy."