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(3rd LD) Prosecutors seek arrest warrant for opposition leader

All News 14:09 February 16, 2023

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments in 8th para)
By Park Boram

SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- Prosecutors sought an arrest warrant for opposition leader Lee Jae-myung on Thursday over development corruption and bribery allegations arising from his time as mayor of Seongnam, south of Seoul.

It marked the first time in South Korea that the prosecution has sought an arrest warrant for the head of the country's largest opposition party. Lee's main opposition Democratic Party has denounced the investigation as political oppression.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office filed for the warrant to arrest Lee on breach of duty, conflict of interest, third-party bribery and other charges surrounding development projects in Seongnam's Daejang-dong and Wirye districts and the city's 's municipal football club.

Lee, mayor of Seongnam from 2010-2018, was charged with breach of trust for allegedly causing 489.5 billion won (US$381.6 million) of financial damage to the city government by approving the removal of a profit-sharing arrangement for the Daejang-dong project, consequently letting private partners pocket excess profits.

He also faces suspicions of leaking inside secrets of the city government or the city's development corporation to the private partners via close aides so that the partners reaped a total of 788.6 billion won of profits from the project to build apartment complexes in the district.

In connection with the Wirye development project, Lee was accused of giving inside information to private developers so that they were selected as project partners and gained 21.1 billion won in unfair profits.

The bribery case involves allegations that Lee, serving as the head of Seongnam FC during his mayorship, attracted 13.3 billion won in corporate donations to the football club from four companies in return for administrative favors.

"The cases constitute local corruption where the head of a regional government colluded with businessmen in the region," a prosecution official said. "A heavy sentence is expected given the serious nature of the crime."

Lee underwent three rounds of questioning by prosecutors in a span of a month, including the latest one on Feb. 10, over the development corruption cases and a separate bribery case involving Seongnam's municipal football club.

Lee has denied all the allegations, branding the investigation as politically orchestrated by the Yoon Suk Yeol government to remove a "political enemy." Lee ran in last year's presidential election where Yoon won by a razor-thin margin over Lee.

Despite the arrest warrant request, Lee is expected to avoid arrest because, by law, prosecutors need parliamentary consent to arrest a lawmaker while the assembly is in session, and the National Assembly, where the DP has a majority, is expected to refuse to consent to his arrest.

The Seoul Central District Court is expected to ask the prosecution to win parliamentary consent for Lee's arrest. The justice ministry will then submit the request for consent to the National Assembly after getting approval from the president.

The National Assembly speaker is supposed to report the request during the first plenary meeting to be held hereafter and put it to a vote within the following three days after the elapse of 24 hours.

Given the time needed normally for such proceedings, the request for parliamentary consent is expected to be reported to the Assembly around Feb. 24 and put to a vote about two days later.

Lee Jae-myung, chair of the main opposition Democratic Party, leaves the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office on Feb. 10, 2023, after undergoing questioning. (Yonhap)

Lee Jae-myung, chair of the main opposition Democratic Party, leaves the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office on Feb. 10, 2023, after undergoing questioning. (Yonhap)


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