Reform of the prosecution is at hand with the bipartisan agreement reached Saturday to install a year-round independent investigation team and a special inspector system following the presidential transition committees decision to shut down the central investigation department of the Supreme Prosecutors` Office.
No prosecutors are permanently assigned to the year-round team but staff will be designated when a case is set up under law. The team, however, cannot launch an investigation into suspicious cases based on cognition. To solve this problem, a special inspector system to investigate corruption by high-ranking officials and the family or relatives of the president was devised to complement the new team.
Questions arose whenever internal investigations were made into prosecutors, so the independent investigation team was formed to prevent this. To avoid this kind of double investigation, an external institution could be empowered to probe allegations of corruption by prosecutors. This time, both the ruling and opposition parties agreed that an investigative agency is necessary to keep in check the prosecution, which wields considerable power.
Neither the year-round team nor the special inspector system, however, can prevent prosecutors from investigating power-related corruption cases. If prosecutors have no fear of the political circle, the Supreme Prosecutors Office with its specialized staff and expertise is naturally better than a special inspector or the year-round team in auditing its investigative ability. If the prosecutors office utilizes its ability to fully and fairly investigate regardless of the status of the accused, the people could feel that the independent investigation team or special inspector system are an unnecessary waste of taxpayers money. The U.S. in 1999 abolished its nominal special inspector system that had been run for 20 years.
No developed country has something like the central investigation department. In Japan, a team of the Tokyo Prosecutors Office investigates major politicians. In Korea, the central investigation department was introduced to investigate cases by prominent figures, but eventually turned into a symbol of the political influence of prosecutors. The prosecutors office should use the abolition of the department as an opportunity to strengthen the central investigation department at lower and higher prosecutors offices. Over the long term, the office should retain its investigative command and prosecutorial functions and hand over its investigative function to police.
The ruling and opposition parties agreed to try to reduce the number of vice minister-level prosecutors by year`s end. As of December last year, 54 among 2,300 prosecutors were at the vice minister level. On the other hand, the commissioner of the National Police Agency was the lone figure with that level among 100,000 officers. Just one or two officials are vice minister-level at a ministry. This serious imbalance has fueled arrogance among prosecutors.
Attempts to reform the prosecution have failed due to lobbying by prosecutors and their opposition. Former Prosecutor-General Han Sang-dae resigned due to strong opposition by prosecutors when he tried to abolish the central investigation department. The removal of the department is a campaign pledge of President Park Geun-hye, and has earned bipartisan agreement. So prosecutors must implement the reform this time.