|Main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Lee Jae-myung attends a party meeting at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap|
By Nam Hyun-woo
Prosecutors indicted main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairman Lee Jae-myung, Wednesday, on charges of corruption involving a massive land development project in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province when he was the mayor of the city.
He was also charged with illegally attracting corporate donations to Seongnam Football Club (Seongnam FC) in return for administrative favors.
The indictment came approximately 18 months after prosecutors launched investigations into the land development scandal, which pitted the main political parties against each other and jeopardized Lee's presidential campaign last year.
The DPK's leadership said the indictment constitutes political persecution and is poised to let Lee retain his status as the party's head. But the cornered chairman is facing dire calls to resign from both inside and outside the party.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office charged Lee with breach of duty, conflict of interest, bribery and concealment of criminal proceeds connected to development projects in Seongnam's Daejang-dong and Wirye areas, and the Seongnam FC football team. Prosecutors indicted Lee without arresting him, because the National Assembly previously rejected an arrest warrant against him.
While seeking to arrest Lee last month, prosecutors accused him of breach of duty by causing 489.5 billion won ($381.6 million) in financial damage to a development unit of the city government by removing an agreement on profit sharing in a project to develop the Daejang-dong area, allowing the private developers to pocket huge profits.
He also faces charges of providing to a lawyer insider information related to a project to develop the Wirye area, allowing the attorney to gain 21.1 billion won in profits.
Prosecutors also accused Lee of involvement in Seongnam FC football club receiving 13.3 billion won worth of donations from four companies in exchange for administrative favors when he was the owner of the team.
With those charges, prosecutors requested the National Assembly to condone Lee's arrest. But the DPK leader narrowly escaped arrest, as the number of approval votes failed to reach half of the total ballots.
"The prosecution has already decided to indict me and staged all kinds of time-consuming shows, such as a politically-motivated arrest warrant and raids," Lee told reporters before prosecutors announced the indictment.
"With the indictment, the time for prosecution has finally ended and it is time for the court to find the truth," he added.
Although Lee will stand trial over the charges, the DPK chief is anticipated to retain his status as the party chairman, since it deems the indictment to constitute political persecution.
The DPK's charter states that its chairman will be suspended from the post in case he or she has been indicted on corruption charges. However, the party added an additional clause last August when Lee was appointed as chairman, noting that it can make different decisions in case there are "unfair reasons, such as political persecution."
Hours after Lee's indictment, the DPK held a party affairs committee meeting and decided that there were "unfair reasons, such as political persecution," thus exempting Lee from losing his chairmanship, as stipulated in the party's charter.
"This is obviously a case of political persecution by prosecutors and the committee agreed that the party should promptly unite to stand up against the oppression," DPK spokesperson Rep. Kim Eui-kyeom said in a press briefing.
|An unidentified person enters Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, Wednesday, when prosecutors indicted main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Lee Jae-myung for his alleged involvement in a land development scandal in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. Yonhap|
However, the anti-Lee faction within the DPK is questioning the party's attempt to protect Lee and demanding him to step down from the post to prevent his legal risks impacting next year's general election.
"The distrust is growing within the party because there are suspicions that Lee is using the party to address his individual problems," DPK Rep. Kim Jong-min said during a radio interview with broadcaster BBS.
After Lee's indictment was announced, ruling People Power Party Chairman Kim Gi-hyeon told reporters, "I don't think Lee is able to serve his role as the chairman of the DPK."