Voices are growing among a hardline faction within the ruling Democratic Party of Korea to speed up the establishment of serious crimes investigation office. Former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae Wednesday called for a quick enactment, saying that she does not understand what more discussions should be made regarding the establishment of the new crime investigation office. Rep. Park Joo-min, who serves as the head of Separation of Investigations and Indictments taskforce, said he does not believe that Justice Minister Park Beom-kye’s recent remarks refer to slowing down the prosecution reform drive.
Speaking at the National Assembly on Monday, Justice Minister Park mentioned the president’s request that the efforts to balance out the prosecution’s investigative power and investigate anti-corruption cases should not be slowed, causing many to speculate that President Moon Jae-in ordered not to rush the establishment of the serious crimes investigation office. Some within the ruling party voiced concerns regarding the speedy establishment of the serious crimes investigation office despite internal conflicts. But former Justice Minister Choo and the ruling party’s 16 first-time lawmakers, including Rep. Hwang Un-ha, called for swift establishment of the investigation office. Justice Minister Park on Wednesday tried to clear up the confusion by saying neither the president nor himself used the expression “slow down” but some say it is a sign of split within the party.
Once the serious crimes investigation office is established, the prosecution’s right to investigate cases in six areas, including corruption and economy, will be handed over to the newly established office. Under the circumstances, where the disputes surrounding the resignation of President Moon’s senior secretary Shin Hyun-soo have just been settled, the issue of establishing the serious crimes investigation office could reignite conflicts between the ruling party and the prosecution, thereby unsettling the political situation. It will also take time for the newly-established Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials and National Investigation Headquarters to settle down. The speculation over President Moon’s remarks appears to reflect such background.
There have not been enough discussions on whether the establishment of the serious crimes investigation office and subsequent separation of the right to investigate and indict will contribute to creating a fair and efficient criminal justice system. Even if consensus is built on the establishment of the serious crimes investigation office, careful and detailed preparation is necessary to minimize confusion during the transition period. If some people within the ruling party push ahead with the establishment of the investigation office despite controversies surrounding the president’s intentions, they will likely face criticism that they are rushing to pass a legislation in order to expand their political clout.