Off on the wrong foot
The new Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) has provoked controversy by inserting a provocative clause into its work guidelines. Announcing the guidelines on Tuesday, the special law enforcement agency aimed at investigating corruption and abuse of power by high-level officials, including judges and prosecutors, said the CIO retains the rights to demand referrals of cases after the prosecution's investigation so that the CIO can determine whether to indict.
The CIO's insistence that the prosecution give up its own indictment rights after investigating sensitive cases heralds a clash with the top law enforcement agency. The two agencies had fought over a vexing case involving the Justice Ministry's illegitimate travel ban on former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui, who served under the conservative government. After the CIO requested a referral of the case from the prosecution, the prosecution sent the case to the CIO. But citing a lack of manpower, the CIO sent the case back to the prosecution with strings attached: the prosecution refers the case to the CIO after investigations so that the CIO can decide whether to indict it. However, the prosecution dismissed the request and indicted a prosecutor — a member of a truth-finding team for the prosecution's suspicious past investigations at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office — and a senior official in the Justice Ministry both for committing illegal acts to issue an unauthorized travel ban on the former vice justice minister.
The CIO claims that the added guideline is as powerful as a presidential decree. But most legal experts criticize the guideline as it hurts the integrity of other investigation agencies. They attack the CIO for trying to dominate all investigative authorities.
Some confusion was expected in the process of establishing a relationship between the CIO and the prosecution. But we wonder if the CIO has ever earned the trust of the public since its launch in January. For instance, its head Kim Jin-wook, a former judge, disgraced himself after giving "red carpet" treatment to Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office head Lee Seong-yun, who graduated from the same law school as President Moon Jae-in, even though he was a suspect in a case involving abuse of power. A civic group already filed a complaint with the prosecution over Kim's potential fabrication of a report on Lee. Nearly four months after the launch of the CIO, it has not yet recruited the prosecutors and investigators it needs. We wonder why the agency rushes to add an inflammable article to its work guidelines. If the CIO behaves like this, it could turn into a target of reform instead of leading a crusade for prosecution reforms.