Inside the law for a special counsel probe over a Korean Marine’s death

Posted on : 2024-05-03 17:13 KST Modified on : 2024-05-03 17:13 KST
A Democratic lawmaker said the bill was structured in a way that the president could be subject to investigation
Opposition lawmakers singlehandedly pass a bill on May 2, 2024, to assign a special counsel to investigate alleged outside interference in an internal investigation into the death of a Marine during a flood search and rescue mission in 2023. (Yonhap)
Opposition lawmakers singlehandedly pass a bill on May 2, 2024, to assign a special counsel to investigate alleged outside interference in an internal investigation into the death of a Marine during a flood search and rescue mission in 2023. (Yonhap)

Spearheaded by the Democratic Party, the National Assembly passed a bill Thursday to assign an independent special counsel to investigate the alleged coverup of an internal military investigation into the death of a Marine during a search operation for missing persons during severe flooding in July 2023. At the core of the legislation is a push to shed light on alleged interference in the original internal investigation by the Ministry of National Defense and the presidential office. 

The special act, which was jointly introduced last September by 24 lawmakers, including Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung and fellow Democrat Park Joo-min, specifies the following as the scope of the investigation: the death of a Marine corporal surnamed Chae, possible malfeasance related to occupational negligence and abuse of power by the presidential office, the Ministry of National Defense, the Marine Corps Headquarters, and the Gyeongbuk Provincial Police, and other related incidents identified during the investigation.
 
According to the special act, the president must request a recommendation for a special prosecutor candidate from the parliamentary group that the president is not a member of, in this case, the Democratic Party. The parliamentary group will receive four recommendations from the head of the Korean Bar Association, then recommend two out of the four as potential candidates. The president then has three days to appoint one of them as a special prosecutor. 

The special prosecutor has 90 days, which includes 20 days of preparation, to conduct an investigation, which can be extended once by 30 days with presidential approval. The investigative team can include up to 104 people, including 20 prosecutors and no more than 40 public officials.
 
In July 2023, after Chae died after being swept away by raging waters during a search for flood victims in Yecheon County, North Gyeongsang Province, Park Jeong-hun, then head of the Marines’ investigation team, determined that eight people, including then-1st Marine Division commander Lim Seong-geun, should be charged with manslaughter due to occupational negligence.
 
He reported his findings to Marine Corps Commandant Kim Gye-hwan and then-Minister of Defense Lee Jong-sup, and on Aug. 2, 2023, he transferred the case records to the Gyeongbuk Provincial Police. Between July 30 and Aug. 2, calls between the presidential office, the Ministry of National Defense, the National Police Agency, and the Marine Corps took place to order the case records to be withheld and to retrieve the case records.
 
The case record, which only specified the charges of two battalion commanders and left out any mention of Lim, was resubmitted to the provincial police on July 21. During an MBC radio broadcast on April 15, Park commented, “We have structured the bill so that it is possible to investigate President Yoon Suk-yeol as well.”

By Ko Han-sol, staff reporter

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