|Rep. Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, is transferred to a hospital from the National Assembly, Monday, as his health worsened following a 19-day hunger strike against the Yoon Suk Yeol government. Yonhap|
Main opposition party files motion to dismiss prime minister
By Jun Ji-hye
Prosecutors asked a court to issue an arrest warrant for main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung, Monday, who is on the 19th day of a hunger strike, on charges of breach of trust, bribery, violation of the Foreign Exchange Transaction Act and other charges in connection with a land development scandal while he was mayor of Seongnam from 2010 to 2018. Lee was also charged with the unauthorized transfer of money to North Korea when he was governor of Gyeonggi Province during 2018 to 2021.
It was the second attempt by the prosecution to detain the DPK chairman, after a previous request was overridden in February when the DPK-controlled National Assembly voted down a motion to arrest him.
At the time, he faced corruption allegations related to another land development scandal in Seongnam's Daejang-dong neighborhood in addition to dubious corporate donations to the city's football club.
The latest request for an arrest warrant came as the DPK chief was rushed a hospital due to worsening health following a hunger strike that began on Aug. 31 to protest against the Yoon Suk Yeol government's policies.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office accused Lee of inflicting a loss of about 20 billion won ($15 million) on city-run developer, Seongnam Development Corp., by giving special treatment to a private developer in the city's Baekhyeon-dong development project between 2014 and 2015. At the time, Lee was the mayor of Seongnam located in Gyeonggi Province.
Lee is also suspected of having asked underwear maker Ssangbangwool Group to pay $8 million to North Korea on behalf of Gyeonggi Province between 2019 and 2020 when he was the governor of the province.
Investigators believe that $5 million was intended to finance a smart farm project in North Korea that the South Korean province pledged to help create, while $3 million was to facilitate Lee's potential visit to the North.
A money transfer to North Korea without the government's authorization is a violation of South Korea's Foreign Exchange Transaction Act.
Lee has consistently denied all of the charges against him, claiming that the allegations were fabricated by what he calls a politically-motivated investigation by the Yoon administration.
Yoon, who was the prosecutor general before becoming president, defeated Lee by a narrow margin in the 2022 presidential election.
|Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon answers questions from reporters at the National Assembly, Monday, about the prosecution's request for a warrant to arrest Rep. Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea. Yonhap|
As Lee is a sitting lawmaker, he is immune from arrest while the National Assembly is in session.
In order for a court hearing to take place to review the prosecution's request to detain him, the arrest motion needs to be approved by the Assembly's plenary session.
According to due procedure, a requisition for Lee's arrest is expected to be submitted to the Assembly in the coming days by the Supreme Prosecutors' Office and the Ministry of Justice, while the Assembly is expected to put his arrest motion to a vote at a plenary session on Thursday or Sept. 25.
Meanwhile, Lee was taken to a hospital on Monday morning due to his deteriorating health as his hunger strike dragged on.
He has been staging an indefinite hunger strike against the Yoon administration, urging the president to apologize for destroying the livelihoods of the people and damaging democracy and to oppose Japan's release of treated radioactive wastewater.
"We called an ambulance as Lee was in a semiconscious state in the morning," said Park Sung-joon, spokesman of the main opposition party. "We are not sure whether he can continue his hunger strike. We need to watch the situation."
But Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said the people already know the ulterior motive of Lee's hunger strike as it began after prosecutors had told him to appear for questioning.
"I don't think a precedent should be set in which the criminal justice system is disrupted because a suspect stages a hunger strike or harms himself," Han said at the National Assembly before appearing in front of a plenary session.
Later in the day, the opposition party filed a motion calling for the dismissal of Prime Minister Han Duk-soo, urging the president to completely overhaul of the way he runs the government. The motion is expected to be put to a vote during a plenary session, Thursday, according to the party.
The filing of the motion came after floor leader Park Kwang-on called for the resignation of all Cabinet members as part of the overhaul, in his address at the National Assembly, during which he denounced a series of recent incidents, including the prosecution's request for the warrant to arrest the DPK chairman.