Ruling party unilaterally passes prosecution reform bills through parliamentary subcommittee

SEOUL-- The ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Tuesday rammed through controversial legislation on reducing and ultimately removing the prosecution's investigative powers despite strong objection from the main opposition People Power Party (PPP).

The DP used its majority to unilaterally approve the bills during a subpanel meeting of the parliamentary legislation and judiciary committee, while PPP members walked out.

The DP aims to pass them through the committee later in the day and hopes National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug will convene a plenary parliamentary session as early as Wednesday to pass the bills, party officials said.

The ruling party has justified its move by claiming the PPP broke its promise when it demanded a review of the compromise deal that called for curtailing the prosecution's investigative right to two crime types -- corruption and economic crimes -- before removing it completely.

The agreement represented a breakthrough compromise between the rival parties that had sparred fiercely for weeks over the DP's headlong push for legislation that would immediately deprive the prosecution of all investigative powers.

The deal, however, drew unexpectedly strong criticism from the public that lawmakers colluded to shield themselves from prosecution investigations as the agreement calls for excluding crimes related to elections and public officials from prosecution probes.

"In order to follow the compromise agreement that the National Assembly declared before the people, the Democratic Party held a legislation subcommittee meeting until late yesterday and wrote the provisions of the Prosecutors' Office Act and the Criminal Procedure Act," DP floor leader Park Hong-keun said at a party meeting earler in the day, referring to amendments that would reduce the prosecution's powers.

Monday's subcommittee meeting reportedly made little progress as PPP lawmakers pored over the details of each provision and the prosecution stressed the "unconstitutionality" of separating their investigative powers from their right to indict.

The DP has cast the PPP's concern over the exclusion of election and public officials' crimes as a stalling tactic aimed at portraying it as a tyrant ahead of the June 1 local elections.

President Moon Jae-in told reporters Monday he thought the compromise deal brokered by Speaker Park was done well.

Hours earlier, President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol had called for the entire political community to reflect deeply on what is right in order to defend the Constitution and protect the people.

Yoon's stance had been closely watched as the president-elect is a former prosecutor general who quit his post last year in protest of the current administration's push to strip the prosecution of its investigative powers in the name of reform.

Since Yoon's election last month, the DP has pushed to use its majority in the National Assembly to pass the necessary amendments to the Prosecutors' Office Act and the Criminal Procedure Act, and to get them signed into law before Yoon could get a chance to veto them after taking office on May 10.

The DP has argued the reform measures are necessary to address longstanding concerns about the prosecution's abuse of power for political and other purposes.

Opponents claim it would run counter to the Constitution and hurt ordinary people while protecting members of the outgoing Moon Jae-in administration from potential criminal investigations.

Yoon's chief of staff Chang Je-won told reporters Tuesday, "I believe President Moon Jae-in will exercise his veto."

"I cannot help but ask if shaking up the criminal justice system and rushing it toward the end of President Moon's term is in line with the people's wishes," he said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency