The Constitutional Court of Korea on Thursday ruled for the constitutionality of an amendment to the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO). The court’s verdict concluded that the establishment of the CIO, or an anti-corruption probe body, does not compromise the separation of powers; and it accords with the Constitution that prosecutors at the CIO own the rights to request a warrant and accuse judges, the prosecution and high-ranking police officials. As the court dismissed a constitutional petition that asked about the constitutionality of the CIO’s right to request a referral of cases involving high-ranking government officials being examined by other investigative organizations, the clause has automatically earned legal force.
As the adjudication by the Constitutional Court brought an end to the controversy over the enactment and revision of CIO-related acts and the organization’s constitutionality, conditions have been met for the CIO to gear up for a launch. Kim Jin-wook, the inaugural chief of the CIO, said that he will expedite follow-up steps to form a personnel committee to recommend a deputy head and recruit prosecutors, adding that the first case will be allocated to be investigated by the CIO in the near future.
Nevertheless, there is still a question mark over the body’s political neutrality and cooperative relationships with other investigators. Concerns have only increased over how bipartisan the CIO can be since Justice Minister Park Beom-gye mentioned in his confirmation hearing a referral of the case regarding an overseas travel ban that was alleged to be issued illegally on former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-ui. This only makes it necessary for us to listen carefully to Constitutional Judge Lee Eun-ae and minority groups. The principle of due process of law in the Constitution can be put at stake as the CIO head may use his arbitrary judgment about a referral of cases involving high-ranking government officials, into which another investigative agency is in the middle of investigation, they argue. Also, given that the nomination of the head and prosecutors at the CIO can be politically affected, it will likely infringe on the principle of separation of powers stated in the Constitution.
“The sole responsibility of the head of the CIO is to safeguard political bipartisanship in the interests of the public,” Kim said. One of his initiatives is to include external specialist panels in a case assessment committee to allow them to review milestone steps from initiation of investigation to warrant request. Although it has meaningful value in nature, he should make sure that the committee invites external members whose political neutrality has earned complete verification so as to achieve his original goal. The CIO has weathered a severe political confrontation. Now, all eyes are on every single step of the CIO which is on the starting line. The anti-corruption watchdog body can fulfill its intrinsic responsibilities only when its members put a heavy sense of duty on their shoulders while political circles do not even think about wielding their influence over an independent investigative agency.