A league of their own
After Korea's police agency gained more powers than before thanks to the redistribution of investigative rights between the police and the prosecution, Nam Gu-jun — current commissioner of the GyeongNam (South Gyeongsang) Provincial Police Agency (GPPA) and a former official in the Blue House — has been recommended to serve as head of the new National Investigation Headquarters by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety (MOIS). Commissioner Nam's expertise in criminal and special investigations is widely recognized, but concerns are growing over whether he can uphold the political neutrality and independence of the investigation headquarters. Nam graduated from the same high school as Jeon Hae-cheol, minister of MOIS and a core member of the Moon Jae-in administration.
Nam also shares the same birthplace (Busan) and school (National Police University) as the head of Police Commissioner General Kim Chang-ryong. Both Nam and Kim served as chief of the GPPA, which covers security of President Moon's private residence in South Gyeongsang. Questions have arisen over whether Nam would have been picked as the first head of the investigation headquarters without such connections. Actually, he easily defeated five other competitors who had applied for the post.
Can Nam protect the investigation headquarters, which was launched as part of prosecution reforms, from political interference? Freed from command by the prosecution, the police now can conclude investigations on their own unless the prosecution demands re-investigations. That's why political independence is key. But people's expectations have already been dashed. Despite having greater power than before, the police kept mum over whether the late Seoul mayor Park Won-soon committed sexual misconduct with his secretary. The police even tried to cover up a shameful case involving Vice Justice Minister Lee Yong-ku's use of violence against a taxi driver even after obtaining video footage from a black box.
The police have been extremely supine toward the powers that be. Concerns are deepening about their ability — and determination — to probe a plethora of criminal cases involving top government officials and lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party (DP).
We hope Commissioner Nam safeguards the integrity of the headquarters despite his close ties with core members of the government. Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl had to endure persistent attacks from the Blue House and DP after he started looking into dirt on the ruling camp. Could Nam be different after his appointment?
In 2011, six years before Moon became president, Professor Kim In-hoe of Inha University Law School co-authored a book on reforming the prosecution with Moon. Even Prof. Kim has warned against the "creation of another national police" force — even before a fully functioning autonomous police emerge. The Moon administration must not forget that it will pay heavy price if it attempts to put pressure on investigative agencies.