Moon orders prosecution to draw up its own reform plan

September 30, 2019

 President Moon Jae-in instructed South Korea’s prosecution Monday to map out its internal reform measures at an early date, effectively sending another strong warning message to Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl against a controversial probe into a criminal scandal involving Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family.

Moon issued the order upon receiving a report from Cho at Cheong Wa Dae on ways to improve the country’s prosecution system, according to the presidential office.

The president’s move came after a massive street candlelight vigil in southern Seoul over the weekend calling for prosecution reform, one of his key campaign pledges.

He stressed that state prosecutors should actively join the reform drive on their own, urging them to present detailed measures through internal discussions.

In the session, Moon delivered an instruction for the prosecution to “listen to the voices of the people who demand the reform of the prosecution and provide a plan at an early date to become a powerful organization trusted by the people, gathering various opinions from young prosecutors, female prosecutors, prosecutors handling criminal cases and trial-related affairs and others within the prosecution.”

He pointed out that the prosecution is part of an administration that serves the people.

“All powerful public institutions must be humble before the people. Especially powerful institutions must be subject to stronger democratic control. The prosecution is a government agency that constitutes the administration,” he was quoted as saying by Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung.

Moon, who worked as a human rights lawyer, made public his determination to redouble his prosecution reform drive.

“While the independence of the prosecution’s investigative rights has been greatly strengthened under our government, (many people point out that) there is a lack of improvement in the method of exercising prosecution rights, investigative practices and organizational culture,” he said.

South Korea has been embroiled in weeks of fierce political controversy over Moon’s pick of Cho as justice minister.

In early August, Moon nominated Cho, a law professor and Moon’s former presidential secretary for civil affairs, to the position.

Prosecutors soon launched an extensive investigation into allegations, largely raised by opposition parties and some news outlets, of ethical lapses and violations of the law by his family, especially in connection with an investment in a private equity fund and his daughter’s school admissions.

While Cho was attending the National Assembly’s confirmation hearing, the prosecution indicted his wife on charges of forging a college president’s citation for use in her daughter’s medical school application.

Since the president appointed Cho despite strong public criticism on Sept. 9, prosecutors have intensified their probe, highlighted by an 11-hour raid on Cho’s house last week.

The raid apparently sparked the bigger-than-expected candlelight vigil by angry Moon supporters Saturday in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office in southern Seoul. Organizers estimate the number of participants at as many as 2 million people, while opposition lawmakers put it at around 50,000.

Participating citizens vowed to “defend” both Moon and Cho, arguing that the influential prosecution is attempting to force the minister to quit in protest against reform. They accused the prosecution of abusing its authority and deliberately leaking information related to the ongoing probe to the media ahead of any trial.

Cho is known as an architect of the liberal Moon administration’s far-reaching reform of the local law-enforcement system.

The government is taking a two-track prosecution reform measure.

It’s seeking to overhaul a related system via the revision of the law especially to create a separate unit specializing in investigating corruption by high-ranking civil servants and granting more investigative power and authority to police. Currently, for instance, South Korea’s state prosecutors monopolize the rights to indict and end criminal investigations.

Cho’s ministry is also pushing for sweeping change of the work practices and culture of the prosecution.

A widespread view is that the sitting prosecution leadership, including the prosecutor-general, is dominated by those with a career background of looking into high-profile corruption cases.

Meanwhile, Cho briefed the president on a set of the ministry’s plans to help bolster the role and function of other prosecutors and modify guidelines on revealing facts of suspected crimes.

The president okayed the measures, in principle, but he told Cho to postpone implementation until after the end of the investigation into his family.

Moon cited concern about possible “misunderstanding” that the measures could be intended to “shrink” the probe.