The government has announced its plans to establish a new investigative body charged with rooting out corruption among all high-ranking public officials, including the president.
The ruling camp says it's an indispensable agency to eradicate irregularities among senior officials. However, the opposition is concerned the agency may turn into an around-the-clock surveillance organization.
The judicial and prosecution reform committee under the Ministry of Justice on Monday disclosed details on the criminal investigation agency on high-ranking public employees.
Under the committee's recommended plan that's been proposed to Justice Minister Park Sang-ki, the agency will be an independent body with legal backing to investigate, indict and prosecute all government officials and lawmakers for any illegal work-related activities.
Minister Park said the Justice Ministry will swiftly draft its own blueprint based on the recommendation.
The envisioned agency will be capable of investigating the president, prime minister, Supreme Court chief justice, head of the Constitutional Court, court justices, military generals, and provincial governors, as well as senior members of the prosecution and police. Even spouses and relatives could come under scrutiny.
The agency can also request the prosecution to hand over probes as it holds priority in investigation rights.
It will investigate and punish a broad range of irregularities including bribery, illegal political funds, blackmail, coercion, abuse of authority, election meddling and political interference by the National Intelligence Service.
The agency can hire up to 122 investigators, including some 50 prosecutors, and its head will serve a single 3-year term.
For the election of the agency’s chief, a candidate recommendation committee installed in parliament will name two candidates with at least 15 years of judicial experience or who are law professors with attorney qualifications. The president will then choose one of the two and the nominee will undergo a confirmation hearing.
The establishment of an investigation body exclusively targeting senior public officials was first proposed under the Kim Dae-jung administration. But little progress had been made during the following 20 years until President Moon Jae-in made it one of his campaign pledges.
Since the Moon government came into power, the launch of the agency gained strong momentum as part of efforts to reform the prosecution.
Stamping out corruption is a difficult task for any government, and the fact that this body will investigate those deeply rooted in power further complicates matters. Under the previous Park Geun-hye administration, a special inspectors system was introduced but its function ended up being neutralized by those in power.
Despite positive views on the idea of such an agency, it's already being highly disputed among political and legal circles.
The conservative main opposition Liberty Korea Party is opposed to the idea, saying the new agency can rise above existing law enforcement and become a high-powered surveillance body monitoring opposition lawmakers.
The People's Party and Bareun Party support the establishment of the body, but are concerned about the president appointing the agency chief and the sheer size of the organization.
Legal experts say there is much room for improvement, especially in the area of obtaining political independence.