(ATTN: ADDS PPP chair's response in paras 11-17, photos)
By Lee Minji
SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) -- The acting chairman of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) has apologized after a text conversation he had with President Yoon Suk-yeol was caught on camera, in which Yoon was seen backbiting about suspended party chief Lee Jun-seok.
PPP floor leader Kweon Seong-dong took over as acting leader of the party early this month after the party's ethics committee suspended Lee's party membership for six months over allegations of sexual bribery and a cover-up.
On Tuesday, Kweon was caught on press cameras writing a text message to Yoon on his mobile phone. The screen also showed earlier messages from Yoon saying he was happy with the change in the party's leadership and took a swipe at Lee.
"Our party is doing a good job. We should keep this up," Yoon wrote in the messages sent via Telegram. "Since the replacement of the party chair who used to shoot upon ourselves, our party has become different."
Yoon was seen criticizing Lee for focusing on an internal fight rather than attacking the opposition party.
Kweon said in response, "We will uphold your wish, and show unity between the party and the government."
Hours later, Kweon issued an apology, saying he would take full responsibility over the incident.
"It is entirely my fault that a personal conversation with the president was revealed due to my carelessness and caused misunderstanding," he said in a Facebook post. "Regardless of the reason, I apologize to fellow party members and the people for causing concern."
On Wednesday, Kweon apologized again but stressed the importance of privacy.
"Private texts were revealed against my will," Kwon told reporters, declining to answer questions on the matter. "My privacy should also be protected."
The presidential office expressed regret over the incident.
"The fact that a private conversation was exposed under whatever circumstances, and caused a misunderstanding among the people and various media outlets is greatly undesirable," Choi Young-bum, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said at a press briefing.
Lee expressed displeasure.
"I clearly understood it without any misunderstanding," he said in a text message sent to Yonhap, referring to the presidential office's statement that the revelation caused misunderstanding. "I hope the presidential office does not misunderstand that I did not understand it."
In a Facebook post, Lee also talked about what his relations with his political rivals were like when he was party chief, saying they bullied him when cameras went away and approached with smiles to shake his hand when cameras came back in.
"This island is good, because everything is as candid as it looks," Lee said, referring to the East Sea island of Ulleung, where he has been staying.
Since taking over as party chief, Lee has constantly been at odds with President Yoon's core associates, often dubbed "Yoonhaekgwan," including Kweon, and claimed his suspension was the result of political machinations engineered by them.
The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) called the revelations "very shocking" and criticized Yoon for intervening in party politics.
"It is not desirable for the president to get deeply involved in the PPP's power struggle," Rep. Woo Sang-ho, interim leader of the DP, told a party meeting.
"Is the president of the Republic of Korea so free as to send this kind of message ... elated after getting rid of the ruling party's chairman?" Woo said. "The people's livelihoods and economy are getting worse because the president pays attention to an issue like this."
Woo said Lee's removal was confirmed to be the "joint work of President Yoon and Yoonhaekgwan."
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