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(2nd LD) Opposition raises call for special probe of financial scams

All News 17:43 October 28, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with details of the Presidential Security Service's statement at bottom)

SEOUL, Oct. 28 (Yonhap) -- The main opposition party doubled down on its demand for a special counsel investigation into high-profile financial scam scandals Wednesday, chanting slogans as President Moon Jae-in arrived at the National Assembly to deliver a speech on next year's state budget.

The leadership of the People Power Party (PPP) boycotted a meeting among leaders of three parties and Moon that was held ahead of the budget speech, in protest of Moon and the ruling Democratic Party's refusal to launch a special counsel into the snowballing scandals involving two asset management firms, Optimus and Lime.

Lawmakers of the main opposition People Power Party call for special probes into financial scandals involving private funds in front of the National Assembly on Oct. 28, 2020, as President Moon Jae-in arrived there to deliver a speech on his administration's budget plan for next year. (Yonhap)

The PPP submitted a bill on the introduction of the independent counsel probe last week. But the ruling party has opposed the plan, saying that speed matters in the ongoing prosecution probe into the case but appointing a special counsel cannot be a solution.

Holding up sign cards that read, "Why is the country the way it is" and chanting slogans calling for an immediate acceptance of the bill, the opposition lawmakers lined up to form a human wall flanking the entry path of the president.

The lawmakers made the same demand during their plenary session held at the parliament ahead of the presidential speech.

"The DP claims that (the cases) are not abuses of power in nature. Then there is no reason for them to refuse a special counsel investigation," PPP floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young said.

"If they are so confident, they should let Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl investigate or simply appoint an independent counsel."

The PPP's Rep. Lee Young said she was skeptical of whether the administration had the willingness to uncover the truth. "The proper means of resolving public doubt is to disclose the cases' full picture through a neutral investigation by a special counsel."

Lawmakers of the main opposition People Power Party call for special probes into financial scandals involving private funds in front of the National Assembly on Oct. 28, 2020, as President Moon Jae-in arrived there to deliver a speech on his administration's budget plan for next year. (Yonhap)

Private equity firm Lime Asset Management has been under a probe over its alleged cover-up of massive losses and subsequent suspension of fund redemption worth an estimated 1.6 trillion won (US$1.39 billion).

The scandal surrounding the Optimus Asset Management scandal centers on allegations that the company solicited funds worth about 1.2 trillion won from about 2,900 investors for investments in public institutions but actually funneled most of the money into risky assets, incurring huge losses for the investors.

The two cases are at the center of what could develop into a large political lobbying scandal, with allegations flying around that the companies illegally lobbied former and sitting ranking officials and politicians to cover up cases and evade investigations.

PPP Chairman Kim Chong-in and Joo also boycotted the courtesy meeting among Moon, the parliamentary speaker and political leaders that was held ahead of the presidential speech.

"Chairman Kim decided not to attend the meeting with the president to protest his unwillingness to investigate the Lime and Optimus cases through a special prosecution," said PPP spokesperson Rep. Kim Eun-hye.

According to PPP officials, Joo headed to the meeting but later turned back, apparently offended after the presidential security detail asked for identification and searched his body for possible threats.

PPP lawmakers booed and jeered inside the plenary chamber in protest of the body search by the presidential security detail. They continued doing so even as Moon entered the chamber.

Joo said he was "dumbfounded" from his encounter with the presidential security team.

"This administration has done things unilaterally in every area and has distanced itself from the people. But I truly did not expect them to frisk the opposition floor leader," he said.

Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug confirmed that the legislature has received a complaint on the body search. "We will check on this and take appropriate measures," Park said.

The Presidential Security Service (PSS), responsible for handling security of the president, said in a statement that parliamentary floor leaders are actually subject to body searches in events involving the president at the National Assembly.

"As per custom, floor leaders were exempt from searches when accompanied by party leaders. But floor leader Joo solely arrived after the president and other attendees already entered the venue," the service said, citing its internal guideline.

The service, however, quoted PSS chief Ryoo Yeon-sang as stating that it would have been preferable if the on-site security agent "exercised flexibility" when Joo arrived at the meeting.

President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech on his administration's budget plan for next year at the National Assembly in Seoul on Oct. 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

odissy@yna.co.kr
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