The Central Ethics Committee of the People Power Party on Thursday decided to begin disciplinary procedures for its leader, Lee Jun-seok, in connection with allegations that he had received sex services as a bribe.
Lee is the first party leader in the history of the country’s main conservative party to be referred to the ethics committee for review while in office.
All of its nine members decided unanimously to start the procedures. However, it did not say when the procedures will begin.
The committee can recommend one of four levels of disciplinary action -- expulsion from the party, recommendation of defection from the party, suspension of the rights granted to a party member and a warning.
Lee faces two allegations. One is that he received sex services as a bribe and the other is that he abetted destruction of evidence.
The latter is what the committee will focus on because the seven-year statute of limitations for the alleged bribery has run out.
Hoverlab, a right-wing YouTube channel dealing with current news, in December last year alleged that Lee received hospitable treatment, including sex services on two occasions in 2013, in Daejeon, from Kim Sung-jin, chief executive of i-KAIST, who is currently serving time for fraud.
The channel cited what it claims evidence records by the prosecution that was investigating the i-KAIST CEO on fraud charges.
In December last year, the ethics committee had a meeting in connection with the alleged bribes for Lee, but decided not to take disciplinary procedures. At that time, the party was concentrating on the presidential campaigns.
About four months have since passed. The presidential election is over. In the meantime, the channel has presented additional evidence.
It revealed voice recordings by an informant, surnamed Jang, who claims he took Lee to the place where the sex services in question were provided after drinking at a bar.
In one of the recordings made by Jang, Kim Chul-keun, an aide to Lee, contacted him. Hoverlab disclosed a copy of a “certificate of promise” allegedly handwritten by Kim Chul-keun, promising Jang an investment of about 700 million won ($560,000) apparently as hush money.
Lee refuted the revelations, arguing that they are false claims. As for the allegation that he abetted his aide into attempting to destroy evidence, he argued that his aide “tried to receive a document that confirms truth.”
Lee said that he had not been investigated by the prosecution nor had he received a call from the prosecution in connection with the allegations. However, he has sidestepped questions on whether he did go to the bar and if he had received sex services.
The channel filed a petition to the ethics committee of the People Power Party. Several civic groups also filed complaints to the prosecution and police have begun investigations. The office of the party leader said it will sue the channel for slander.
It is hard to predict now how this controversy will end, but if suspicions are found true, it will be difficult for Lee to evade legal and political responsibility.
It seems obvious that Lee has already suffered a political blow from the suspicions regardless of the outcomes of the disciplinary procedures.
Sexual misconduct, acceptance of a bribe and abetting destruction of evidence are issues that can spark public rage in a flash. The fact that he is embroiled in suspicions over such issues can undermine his leadership.
Whether the committee will take disciplinary action or when deliberations will start hangs in the air. But in a sense, the committee’s decision is proof that the party is healthy. The truth must be revealed.
If the suspicions are groundless, Lee must clear himself of them on this occasion. If he fails, he will face a hard political life.
By Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org