Governing party attempts to override opposition veto . . .
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) of South Korea is pushing forward with a plan to override the opposition’s veto of the appointment of a first chief of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO). Established last December, the CIO would have investigatory and prosecutorial powers on corruption issues over top government officials and their family members, including the president, parliamentarians, and prosecutors. The DP accused the opposition People Power Party (PPP), which has launched a constitutional challenge against the CIO’s establishment in the courts, of deliberately delaying the launch of the anti-corruption agency. Meanwhile, the PPP accuses the DP of trying to turn the CIO into a political tool controlled by the government of the day.
A controversial dream long in the making . . .
Central to the battle over the CIO’s establishment is President Moon Jae-in's crusade for prosecution reform, a long-held dream for the Democratic Party. South Korea’s prosecutors enjoy substantial powers over indictments and investigations unseen in other democracies and face public distrust for alleged abuses of power and political bias. Moon’s administration has shifted some of these powers away from prosecutors to other agencies, such as the police, and established the CIO to investigate prosecutorial abuses. The shift has not been without controversy, however. Last October, prosecutors investigated former Justice Minister Cho Kuk over allegations of corruption, for which he was formally indicted in December. The scandal erupted in massive protests for and against the embattled minister, who was seen as the face of prosecution reform efforts.
South Korea divided over attacks on increasingly popular Prosecutor General . . .
Cho Kuk’s successor, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, has since butted heads with Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol, who the government sees as resisting reforms to his office. Last Tuesday, the Justice Minister sent investigators to interrogate Yoon over allegedly inappropriate meetings with the owners of South Korea’s top media conglomerates, building on another similar investigation launched in October. Opposition-friendly media outlets decried the action as an attempt to force Yoon’s resignation. At the same time, pro-government media defended the interrogation as proper use of the ministry’s powers to investigate potential abuses of office. Amidst these events, Yoon has found new popularity, emerging as the top potential 2022 presidential candidate in a November 11 poll. Meanwhile, Moon’s approval rating has sunk to its lowest since last year’s Cho Kuk scandal.
- Al Jazeera: Abuse of power has become the norm in Moon’s South Korea
- East Asia Forum: Politics and prosecution reform in South Korea
- The Diplomat: South Korea’s government and top prosecutor clash once again