Prosecution reform

Reforming the prosecution has been one of the nation’s key agendas, as has been revealed through last year’s presidential election. With the launch of the new administration, it’s imperative that our society should put finishing touches on the reform process.

During a National Assembly confirmation hearing Tuesday, Chae Dong-wook, President Park’s nominee for the top prosecution post, made clear his commitment to prosecution reform, saying he doesn’t oppose abolishing the Central Investigation Department (CID), an elite unit within the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO) that has long been accused of being politically biased.

“All members of the prosecution ensure that it will remain politically neutral. I will become a shield that blocks outside pressure so that prosecutors can perform their duties independently,” he said.

It’s comforting that Chae, himself a veteran prosecutor, showed a positive response on the need to reform the prosecution, given his alleged reluctance revealed through his written statement delivered to the Assembly before the hearing. In the statement, the nominee proposed establishing a separate unit at the SPO and expanding the number of special prosecutors that will handle high-profile cases susceptible to controversy over fairness and neutrality.

In the hearing, he showed skepticism regarding a proposal to set up a permanent independent counsel and another new special inspection body, citing the possibility of being unconstitutional. Instead, Chae favored appointing a special prosecutor when necessary.

True, the prosecution’s concern is understandable, given the CID’s crucial role to date in punishing the president’s relatives and cronies, high-ranking officials and politicians and business leaders. Yet the time is long past for the prosecution to accept a bipartisan agreement on prosecution reform reached last month, considering its abuse of power and a variety of bribery and sex scandals involving both senior and junior prosecutors.

There is no denying that the prosecution has often shown subservience to those in power, especially the chief executive, and lost public confidence to a large extent. In this regard, its exclusive indictment authority must be dispersed and checked and its vested interests ― for example, the prosecution has as many as 55 vice ministerial posts, compared with only one vice ministerial post retained by police ― forsaken.

Chae’s foremost task is to create a system in which the prosecution’s political neutrality and independence will be ensured and trusted by the general public under any circumstances. In this vein, the prosecution should accept the bipartisan accord on a permanent independent counsel and a special inspection body without hesitation and find supplementary measures to minimize their side effects later.