Go to contents

The only response is true reform

Posted November. 30, 2012 07:54,   


Prosecutor-General Han Sang-dae on Thursday decided to announce a reform plan for the nation`s maligned prosecutors and resign Friday. He decided to step down after having a head-on collision with the head of the central investigation department over reforming the organization, which has been tainted by bribery and sex scandals. Rank-and-file prosecutors demanded that the top leadership of the prosecution be replaced, and certain prosecutors even tried to pass around a compact with signatures from district prosecutors’ offices. President Lee Myung-bak faces a dilemma. He can neither simply reappoint a new prosecutor-general, who has lost confidence of the people, nor leave the seat empty at a time when the presidential election is just a few weeks away.

Han’s reform plan is expected to include the removal of the central investigation department. The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office started an audit on the text message that department head Choi Jae-kyung sent to a prosecutor who allegedly accepted 900 million won (830,000 U.S. dollars) in bribes. This was the direct cause of the backlash against Choi, but the conflict between Han and Choi stemmed from different opinions on the elimination of the department. Han says true reform should entail the abolition of the department that investigates cases at the behest of the presidential office or the prosecutor-general and reports to the latter. Choi, however, claims that Han is trying to harm the organization out of personal interest.

Debate over the department`s raison d`etre is nothing new but Han stirred controversy by pushing for the reform plan without getting a consensus in advance. His official term ends in August next year, but he has effectively three months because of the Dec. 19 presidential election. Given this, he can hardly push for effective reform.

Prosecutors who oppose the abolition of the department need to reflect on themselves given the controversy over political neutrality, which has raged since 1981. Politicians are often exempt from arrest in an investigation, and the not-guilty rate in an initial probe by the central investigation department (9.6 percent) is much lower than that of other cases (0.36 percent). Prosecutors, who now wield enormous power, were indifferent to allegations of their corruption. If opposition to the removal of the department is from mass psychology of not wanting to give up their privileges, then this is not persuasive. Of course, it is undesirable to oppose ideas such as forming a new investigation department in charge of corruption cases involving high-ranking officials such as the president’s relatives, high-ranking officials, judges and prosecutors or a year-round independent probe team because of pledges by politicians. If prosecutors cannot revamp themselves, then someone from the outside needs to take up the scalpel.