The Korea Herald


GNP lawmaker under probe for illegal overseas electioneering

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 7, 2011 - 16:27

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Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Rep. Choi Kyung-hee of the ruling Grand National Party asked Koreans living in the U.S. to vote for GNP candidates in the general elections scheduled for April 11.

It is against the law to urge voters to support a party in an election ahead of the official campaign period.

The investigators have e-mailed those who attended a meeting of Koreans in Los Angeles in June to find out exactly what Choi said there.

“We are still waiting for replies from them. Nothing is for sure yet,” a prosecutor said.

If she is found to have made such remarks, Choi could be the first to face indictment on charges of illegal overseas campaigning.

In April, approximately 2.3 million Koreans residing in foreign countries are expected to cast their ballots for lawmakers. The vote volume is large enough to affect the election outcome, analysts say. In the 2002 presidential election, the former President Roh Moo-hyun beat his opponent Lee Hoi-chang by less than a million votes.

For the general election, overseas residents with Korean nationality are to register as overseas voters at their embassies or consular offices from Nov. 13 for a month and cast votes on April 2.

As part of efforts to make the election fair and transparent, prosecutors have formed a joint task force with the Ministry of Justice, and consulted the National Election Commission on the overseas voting guideline over the last weekend. The commission emphasized to the prosecutors that e-mail, phone calls or visits to ask for votes are allowed during the election campaign period only.

“There are not many restrictions we can impose on overseas illegal election campaigning such as bribery, defamation and spread of rumors against candidates, since people involved live outside our borders. It is hard to detect and investigate them,” a prosecutor said.

“We are considering dispatching investigators to countries with large numbers of registered voters, but to do so is unlikely due to diplomatic issues.”

The fact that a lot of evidence collected overseas is hardly recognized in Korean courts is also a hurdle, the prosecutors said.

Overseas voting has become a hot potato since 2007, when the Constitutional Court ruled the restriction on voting rights for overseas Koreans unconstitutional. Korea is the last country among OECD members to allow overseas votes.

Overseas residents can also cast ballots in the presidential election slated for Dec. 19, 2012.

By Bae Ji-sook (