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[Editorial] Lee's arrest warrant

Opposition leader gives message asking lawmakers to reject his detention hearing

By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 21, 2023 - 05:30

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The National Assembly is set to vote on a government request for opposition leader Lee Jae-myung to attend a pretrial detention hearing.

He has promised many times to give up his privilege as a lawmaker of being able to avoid detention depending on the result of a National Assembly vote and voluntarily attend a detention hearing like ordinary people do if the prosecution sought an arrest warrant for him, but his promises were just empty words.

An incumbent National Assembly member can stand trial without detention if the Assembly votes down a government request for appearance at a detention hearing.

He is suspected of causing 20 billion won ($15 million) in losses to Seongnam Development Corp., a public enterprise affiliated with Seongnam City, by giving special favors to a private developer in an apartment development project in Baekhyeon-dong in the city. He is also charged with making Ssangbangwool, an underwear manufacturer, cover the cost of his visit to North Korea. Ssangbangwool is suspected of illegally giving a total of $8 million in cash to North Korea under the pretext of an advance payment for Lee’s visit expenses, but the visit did not end up taking place.

The prosecution on Monday requested an arrest warrant for the leader of the majority Democratic Party of Korea. On Tuesday, the Justice Ministry asked the National Assembly to vote on its request for Lee's appearance at a detention hearing. The vote is to be held Thursday.

As it happened, on the day when the prosecution requested the arrest warrant, Lee was taken to a hospital as his health worsened due to his hunger strike which entered its 19th day. The Democratic Party was enraged at the warrant request, but it was Lee who caused this situation in the first place. He began a hunger strike out of the blue, a day after the prosecution gave him notice to appear at the prosecutors' office for questioning about the Ssangbangwool case, and was taken to hospital on the day when the prosecution requested an arrest warrant. It is questionable whether Lee timed his hunger strike in order to influence Democratic Party lawmakers' judgment on the arrest warrant request.

Because he went on a hunger strike suddenly without justification, the Democratic Party had a hard time providing him with the proper pretext to end his protest. It made irrational demands. In an apparent response to the prosecution’s request for an arrest warrant, they submitted a proposal all of a sudden to dismiss the prime minister. The proposal will be voted on in the plenary session with the request for Lee’s detention hearing. The reason for their behavior is neither justifiable nor logical. They want Prime Minister Han Duck-soo to be removed simply because "he is not coordinating state affairs well." Few would understand this.

The investigations into allegations involving Lee did not begin under the Yoon Suk Yeol administration. His alleged irregularities were so serious that the Moon Jae-in administration could not help but probe them, even though he was the ruling party presidential candidate. Alleged wrongdoings took place when he was the mayor of Seongnam and the governor of Gyeonggi Province. They have nothing to do with the Democratic Party and the National Assembly, and yet the party spent nearly two years trying to protect him. Its lawmakers often brought up the possibility of impeaching the president and the dismissal of ministers.

During his presidential campaign, Lee pledged to renounce the privilege of being able to avoid detention, but he did not keep the promise. In an address to the Assembly in June, he made the same promise once again. If he wants to show his sincerity in the present situation, he must ask his fellow lawmakers to pass the request for his detention hearing. But a day before the vote, Lee posted a Facebook message critical of the prosecution, effectively asking lawmakers to vote down the request for his detention hearing. Not many will tolerate repeated broken promises to renounce the privilege of avoiding detention.