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Prosecution seeks arrest warrant for ailing opposition chief

Democratic Party of Korea threatens to boycott Assembly, pushes to impeach PM

By Kim Arin

Published : Sept. 18, 2023 - 10:12

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Democratic Party of Korea head Rep. Lee Jae-myung, who is on day 19 of his hunger strike against the Yoon Suk Yeol administration, is transferred out of his office on a stretcher Monday morning. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea head Rep. Lee Jae-myung, who is on day 19 of his hunger strike against the Yoon Suk Yeol administration, is transferred out of his office on a stretcher Monday morning. (Yonhap)

Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the bedridden leader of the Democratic Party of Korea on a strike against what he calls President Yoon Suk Yeol’s “tyrannical rule,” is wanted by prosecutors on an arrest warrant request for the second time this year.

Seoul prosecutors said Monday they filed a request for an arrest warrant against Lee, who is already a defendant in two corruption trials, on three different counts of accusations.

One is that he colluded with a policy aide while he was mayor of Seongnam to hand favors such as a change in land permits to private developers, allowing them to illicitly profit from a city development project. The second is that he personated a prosecutor, and then asked a witness to testify falsely in court. The last is that he, as governor of Gyeonggi Province, paid North Korean authorities to organize his Pyongyang trip and to negotiate the province’s business deals with North Korea.

The request by prosecutors came as Lee was admitted to hospital earlier that morning after he fell ill from a prolonged fast, consuming nothing but water and salt since Aug. 31. After refusing to go to hospital a day prior on Sunday, the leader, “in a state of severe dehydration” was transferred on an ambulance called in by Democratic Party lawmakers at around 6:55 a.m.

The Democratic Party has cried injustice, with nearly all of its lawmakers taking to the presidential office in Seoul’s central Yongsan-gu to stage a protest against the prosecutors’ move. In statements, the party characterized the arrest warrant request as a “crackdown on the president’s political opposition,” and slammed the prosecutors as being “politically motivated” and for “abusing their powers.”

Rep. Cho Jeong-sik, a five-time Democratic Party lawmaker, told reporters that the prosecutors seeking an arrest warrant for the opposition leader was an “injustice that should not, and cannot be tolerated.” “This cruel, cold-blooded crackdown on the opposition, and its leader needs to stop right now,” he said.

Lee himself has consistently denied all accusations standing against him, claiming the prosecutors had “political motives” to come after him. He has said the accusations standing against him were “fabricated” and that “truth will triumph in the end.”

In a counter move, the Democratic Party threatened to submit a National Assembly motion to dismiss Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, on top of the repeated demands to fire Yoon’s entire Cabinet. The prime minister told reporters in response that he would “await the Assembly’s process.” The Democratic Party also declared that the party would boycott all plenary sessions of the Assembly committees.

As Lee is an incumbent lawmaker, an arrest warrant request for him must be preceded by a majority consent of the Assembly before it can be sent to court. In February, the first such request to reach the Assembly was turned down in a vote by the Assembly, whose majority is controlled by the opposition.

The ruling People Power Party says the Democratic Party’s demands to replace all of the Cabinet ministers would lead to impending tasks such as voting on budget bills being put on hold. “The Democratic Party is acting as though the Assembly revolves around one person -- its leader,” said Rep. Yun Jae-ok, the ruling party’s floor leader.

Minister of Justice Han Dong-hoon, speaking to reporters before attending the Assembly plenary session, accused Lee of leveraging the arrest warrant request to frame the criminal trials and indictments facing him as a political attack, and himself as a victim of injustice.

“Sparing a criminal suspect for harming himself by not eating would leave a troubling precedent in our justice system,” the minister said. “Powerful people feigning illness to dodge accountability is a sight all of us are too familiar with, and as history shows, they never truly succeed in doing so. Justice eventually wins, always.”

On the Democratic Party claims that the prosecutors were targeting the opposition, the minister responded, “The ongoing investigations are not about the opposition party, it’s about the criminal suspicions surrounding its leader alone.”

According to his office, Lee, who is known to be diabetic, developed “dangerously low blood sugar levels” and was experiencing “lightheadedness” as of Monday afternoon.