The South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae demonstrated Monday its commitment to reforming the police, the prosecution and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) according to plan and completing it by the end of the term at a meeting presided over by President Moon Jae-in. As the right to investigation, which has been a bone of contention, has mostly moved to the police, the main question has become who should take control of police investigations.
In the meeting, the government reiterated that it would create a national investigation team, which will be tasked with overseeing police investigations. It added it would guarantee the new team independence by preventing the police commissioner from exerting influence over individual cases. It appears that the government is barking up the wrong tree or it is trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.
The presidential office and the Ministry of Justice have been appointing those in favour of them as key officials in the prosecution. On the other hand, those who have been involved in investigations into the incumbent administration have been demoted, which resulted in the cases losing momentum. The independence of the new investigation team hinges on whether or not the government cherry-picks who is going to be in charge of the team. It does not matter if the police commissioner has the right to investigation or not.
As for the reform in the NIS, it was a step in the right direction to reduce the right to collect information as it can prevent the agency from meddling in national politics. However, it is worrying that the right to communism-related investigations will be handed over to the police as it could compromise national security. Intelligence and investigations go hand in hand, which means communism-related investigations will not be as effective with one agency collecting information and another conducting investigation. It would also give too much power to the police, which runs counter to the aim of the reform to distribute power.
There is also a controversy surrounding Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s presence in Monday’s meeting, especially because no new information was shared in the meeting. The presidential office explained that it was already planned, but some argue that it was to show support for Minister Choo who is alleged to abuse her influence for her son when he was serving in the military.
So far, the prosecution reform has been more about who will be given more authority rather than enhancing independence and political neutrality of the prosecution. The police are already more susceptible to political influence. If nothing is done to fix these issues, the ongoing reform is highly likely to result in less independence of law enforcement agencies and gaps in investigations into crimes and communism.