The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Party for one person

DP makes bizarre moves to defend its leader from growing judicial risks

By Korea Herald

Published : June 20, 2024 - 05:30

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Last week, the prosecution indicted Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, without detention on suspicion of being involved in Ssangbangwool’s illegal payment of money to North Korea.

It came days after the first-trial court had sentenced Lee Hwa-young, former vice governor of Gyeonggi Province, to nine years and six months in connection with the case.

The case concerns allegations that Kim Sung-tae paid North Korea a total of $8 million at Lee Hwa-young’s request in 2019 when he was chairman of Ssangbangwool Group, Lee Hwa-young was vice governor and Lee Jae-myung was governor. The money was part of company funds. Kim allegedly gave it in the name of advance expenses for North Korea’s smart farming and Gov. Lee’s visit to Pyongyang. The provincial government should have shouldered the expenses, but Kim did instead.

The court found the allegations to be true. Kim testified to the court that the payment had been reported to Gov. Lee through Vice Gov. Lee and that he had talked to Gov. Lee directly over the phone twice about the payment. The court found the testimonies credible. But Lee Jae-myung argues that the case against him was fabricated.

The prosecution regarded the millions of dollars Kim gave to North Korea as his “third-party bribe” to the then Gov. Lee.

Lee Hwa-young argued that Gyeonggi had nothing to do with Ssangbangwool’s payment to North Korea but the court ignored the argument, saying that there was no reason for Kim to give money to North Korea if Gov. Lee had not wanted to visit the North.

The responses from the Democratic Party to the case and the indictment of its leader have gone too far.

The legislation and judiciary committee of the National Assembly held a plenary session last Friday, with the ruling party boycotting it. Democratic Party lawmakers on the committee spoke as if they were defense attorneys for Lee Jae-myung. Their arguments were sophistry. Still, they made no bones about threatening the prosecution and the court over Lee's indictment.

The job of trying Lee Jae-myung in connection with the case was assigned to the same judge who had sentenced Lee Hwa-young. The party took issue with this, too. Rep. Lee Geon-tae, a member of the committee, called it an act of barbarity that goes against the constitution and abuses human rights. Rep. Jung Chung-rae, chair of the committee, remarked to the effect that the judge who sentenced Lee Hwa-young should be excluded from the case because he seems to be malicious.

Shortly after winning the April 10 general elections, the Democratic Party eyed the chairmanship of the committee, among others. It said that one of its lawmakers should take the post to process an array of bills quickly, but it is questionable if its ulterior motive is to defend Lee Jae-myung from judicial risks.

The party looks poised to impeach those prosecutors and judges deemed unfavorable to it. Its hard-line supporters are collecting signatures to impeach the judge in charge of the case.

Floor Leader Park Chan-dae wrote an SNS post to the effect that judges should be appointed through elections.

Rep. Lee Geon-tae proposed a bill that makes it mandatory for a judge to reject a request for an arrest warrant if a related investigation arouses suspicions that it was conducted to punish a specific person. It is not difficult to guess who the specific person is.

The party also proposed a bill that appoints a special counsel to investigate the case separately and a related prosecutor. It appears that the party may intend to unsettle the bench trying the case. Special counsels should be appointed to clear suspicions, but the party seeks to use them to defend a specific person. The party is reportedly considering revising related laws to punish prosecutors for bringing false charges.

The case took place when Lee was the Gyeonggi governor. It has nothing to do with the party, but the party is trying to shake the nation’s judicial system to save one person. This is not what happens in a democracy.