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(News Focus) Moon to push democratic reforms of intelligence, law enforcement agencies

2017/05/10 00:13

By Yoo Cheong-mo

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's spy agency and law enforcement authorities are expected to undergo sweeping changes under the administration of Moon Jae-in sure to win the presidential election.

During the campaign, Moon vowed drastic reforms with the prosecution, police and intelligence agency to make them politically neutral and more faithful to their role of protecting democracy and human rights.

He also pledged to reinforce state capabilities to fight high-profile corruption and boost the independence of watchdog agencies for state organizations.

A public hearing on the reform of the prosecution and police is under way at the National Assembly in Seoul on Aug. 10, 2016. The hearing was organized by the Democratic Party. (Yonhap file photo) A public hearing on the reform of the prosecution and police is under way at the National Assembly in Seoul on Aug. 10, 2016. The hearing was organized by the Democratic Party. (Yonhap file photo)

His reforms of law enforcement bodies had wide appeal during the election as the vote came as the result of an immense corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye.

State prosecutors under the influence of the former leader's aides initially failed to dig into allegations surrounding Park's long-time friend at the center of the whole affair.

Moon has made anti-corruption efforts one of his campaign priorities. He vowed to establish a much-delayed independent investigation office to look into crimes by high-ranking officials and presidential relatives.

Moon said that the creation of a new investigation office with independent authority for investigation and indictment will help prevent an unjust abuse of power by politicized prosecutors.

"(Some) prosecutors fail to indict those who have to be indicted. The independent investigation office will prevent the manipulation of investigations and abuse of indictment powers (by prosecutors)," Moon said in a recent TV debate.

This photo taken on March 22, 2017, shows former President Park Geun-hye (R) leaving the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul after overnight questioning on her corruption charges. (Yonhap) This photo taken on March 22, 2017, shows former President Park Geun-hye (R) leaving the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul after overnight questioning on her corruption charges. (Yonhap)

Moon also emphasized the need to split up the right to investigate and indict criminal suspects, which is currently monopolized by the prosecution.

His reform plan will weaken state prosecutors' investigation authority and give more power to police by allowing them to carry out independent probes. Police are currently restricted from carrying out independent investigations without supervision from prosecutors.

Moon also seeks to create an autonomous local police system across the country to strengthen the provision of regionalized public security services, while allowing the state police to focus on national level duties.

The National Police Commission will be given more actual power under the new government's bid to strengthen its democratic control of the police.

This file photo taken on Dec. 25, 2016, shows Moon Jae-in shaking hands with police officers at a police station in Seoul. (Yonhap) This file photo taken on Dec. 25, 2016, shows Moon Jae-in shaking hands with police officers at a police station in Seoul. (Yonhap)

A lawyer belonging to a large law firm in Seoul also urged the new president to prioritize the protection of the people's human rights in adjusting the investigation authority between the prosecution and police.

"The upcoming reform should be carried out from the perspective of the protection and expansion of the people's human rights. The institutional interests of the prosecution and police should not be taken into consideration," said the lawyer.

A ranking official in the judiciary agreed with the view, saying impartial personnel reshuffles are a very important issue.

"Before speaking of the introduction of a new system, everybody should reflect on whether previous administrations have fairly carried out shakeups of top prosecutors or made any attempt to use the prosecution as a political tool," said the official.

Lim Ji-bong, a law professor at Sogang University, said keeping state investigation organs from becoming a political tool requires both the will of the president and systemic support.

"One of the best ways to ensure political neutrality of investigation organs is to return some of the presidential authority over their personnel reshuffles to the people."

  

The headquarters of the National Intelligence Service in southern Seoul. (Yonhap file photo) The headquarters of the National Intelligence Service in southern Seoul. (Yonhap file photo)

Meanwhile, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) will be required to concentrate on North Korean and international affairs.

Moon is determined to shut down the domestic affairs divisions of the NIS, believing the spy agency has been used for surveillance and oppression of opposition politicians and dissidents and used its clandestine investigation authority as an excuse to violate human rights.

Moon plans instead to establish a separate body under the police for counterespionage.

"The NIS has been conducting surveillance on the people and unlawfully meddling in elections. It has even penetrated deeply into domestic politics," Moon said. "I will re-organize the agency as a South Korean version of the CIA by closing down all of its domestic operations and having it focus on North Korea, overseas issues, security, terrorism and international crimes."

   Moon's government will even consider changing the name of the NIS to something along the lines of "overseas security intelligence service" as part of its efforts to lead the agency to concentrate on North Korean and international affairs.

ycm@yna.co.kr

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