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Enforcement procedures on election crimes pending with statute of limitations nearing

Enforcement procedures on election crimes pending with statute of limitations nearing

Posted November. 26, 2022 07:20,   

Updated November. 26, 2022 07:21


With just one week left before the expiration of the statute of limitations, only about 70% of the alleged election crimes related to Korea's local elections on June 1, 2022 have been handled and investigated via due enforcement procedures. The Supreme Public Prosecutors' office and public security departments in the district public prosecutors' offices, both in charge of investigating election crimes, are reportedly in a state of emergency as they are swamped with untouched cases while the expiration approaches. After December 1, 2022, they will only be able to punish those who offended local election rules in June if their illegal activities are successfully found.

There is a separate clause for "the statute of limitations" in the Article 268 of the Public Official Election Act. The state's power of punishment disappears six months after the election. When the Act was established in 1947, the statute of limitations was originally one year, then reduced to three months, and then revised again in 1991 to six months. The statute of limitations was short to find election criminals and put them on enforcement procedure quickly so that the election results could be promptly accepted. Many in academic circles and elsewhere repeatedly argued that it should be extended to one year or longer. Still, their argument was continuously rebuffed by those who argued that it could be exploited to persecute or silence politicians.

The current investigation and prosecution procedure for election criminals are absolutely absurd. Thousands of alleged election criminals are to be investigated after every election, and still repeatedly, much of the heap of such cases are processed haphazardly near the expiration. Thinking everything will be okay if they make it through just six months, some suspects do not cooperate with investigators and exploit the legal loophole. The number of election crimes is on a continued rise that is either complicated as the elected person is related or hard to find direct evidence for an indictment. But the procedures handling them always need to catch up and are pressed for the deadline.  

Illegal activities in elections must be severely punished as they distort popular will. However, there will always be limitations in investigating and handling election crimes if the current statute of limitations remains. On top of that, the bill starts to apply next year, which would completely remove the investigation power from prosecutors; the prosecutors' office will not be able to directly supervise investigations on election illegalities other than cases relating to the Political Fund Law or election buying. Concerns are rising over possible "inadequate investigation" due to work overload on the police.  

There were indeed negative examples where the prosecutors exploited the Election Crime Act to persecute or control politicians from the opposition under authoritarian governments, but the time is different now. It would be almost ridiculous and outdated to argue that the length of the statute of limitations should remain the same for such reasons. Countries, including Germany or Japan, do not have such limitations. The statute of limitations for election criminals should be extended to at least one year or be the same as other regular crimes.