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(3rd LD) Gov't unveils measures to curb abuse of power by investigation agencies

2018/01/14 14:18

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(ATTN: UPDATES with more information, minor edits in paras 8-9)

SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- The government on Sunday announced plans to reform the country's three major investigation agencies, a move partly aimed at preventing abuse of power by such government institutions that include the spy agency.

According to the plans announced by Cho Kuk, the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) will hand over its anti-espionage cases to the police and only focus on gathering overseas intelligence.

"It will become a top class intelligence agency for the people and the nation by taking its hands off local politics and anti-espionage investigation and focus only on North Korea and foreign issues," Cho said at a press briefing held at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

Reforming the NIS and other so-called powerhouses was one of key election pledges of President Moon Jae-in as a way of preventing abuse of power. The NIS, for instance, is suspected of having interfered in various elections, including the 2012 presidential election, in which the ousted former leader Park Geun-hye was elected.

The spy agency is also facing a prosecution investigation over allegations of offering monthly bribes to the former president. The agencies subject to reform include the police and the prosecution.

Cho Kuk (R), senior secretary to President Moon Jae-in for civil affairs, speaks in a press conference held at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Jan. 14, 2018, introducing the government plan to reform the prosecution, police and the national spy agency. (Yonhap) Cho Kuk (R), senior secretary to President Moon Jae-in for civil affairs, speaks in a press conference held at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Jan. 14, 2018, introducing the government plan to reform the prosecution, police and the national spy agency. (Yonhap)

"The prosecution, police and the NIS had worked on the opposite side of the people in the past. But even after the launch of a democratic government, they continued to work for the interest and benefits of their own organizations," Cho told the press briefing.

"We continue to confirm one by one that reasons the people held up candles in 2016 and reasons a president was impeached in 2017 included wrongdoings by the prosecution, police and the NIS," he said.

Had there not been such wrongdoings or had there been systems to check and balance such abuse of power by these organizations, there would not have been the corruption and influence-peddling cases that led to the ouster of Park Geun-hye, Cho noted.

"The Moon Jae-in government seeks to end such a vicious cycle," he told the press briefing.

In a press release, the Cheong Wa Dae official said the efforts to reform the three investigative agencies had three main objectives.

First, they seek to completely root out social evils, such as abuse of power, and turn the agencies into those that will only serve the people, he said.

The reform also seeks to enhance mutual control of the three agencies so they will each keep others in check.

The police will take over anti-espionage investigation cases from the NIS, but to keep the police in check, a new mission-specific office will be created within the National Police Agency to take charge of such cases.

Anti-espionage cases have often been used as an excuse to investigate, if not persecute, those critical to the government under former administrations.

With its new power to investigate anti-espionage, the police may become the most powerful and largest investigative agency with over 100,000 officers under its wing, the Cheong Wa Dae official noted.

"It is important to reform the agency to make sure it will work effectively while not violating the human rights of the people," Cho said.

To this end, the government plans to introduce new self-autonomous police agencies under the direct leadership of all major autonomous local governments, including municipal governments.

Currently, Jeju Province is the only local government with an autonomous police unit.

The prosecution's power to directly investigate cases will be limited only to special cases while a joint investigation office, to be created with the police, will take over most of its investigative functions.

"The prosecution monopolizes the power to press charges while it also possesses massive power, such as the power of direct investigation, the power to command police investigations and power to enforce sentences. As such massive power has not been effectively controlled, the prosecution has been abusing its power to maintain its own vested interest or those of specific political powers," Cheong Wa Dae said.

The government will also continue its efforts to shed light on possible abuse of power by the prosecution in the past.

Such efforts will include the launch of an investigation into the death of a farmer-activist who died in 2016 after being hit by a police water cannon during an anti-government rally.

bdk@yna.co.kr

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