Lawmakers on Wednesday voted down a government request to arrest a veteran lawmaker accused of receiving bribes from train parts makers.
The rejection of the Justice Ministry’s application to arrest Rep. Song Kwang-ho of the ruling Saenuri Party comes amid rising public criticism that legislators too often abuse a legal privilege exempting them from detainment by law enforcement.
Wednesday’s decision added fire to this criticism, with more than 50 percent of lawmakers present voting against Song’s arrest.
Authorities cannot arrest lawmakers without parliamentary approval while the National Assembly is in session. Critics have often accused lawmakers of voting against reasonable arrest warrants issued for their colleagues when they should have been approved.
Song shook hands with his colleagues after the vote, as lawmakers walked out of the National Assembly hall matter-of-factly.
In a similar vote in 2012, lawmakers rejected an arrest warrant for Saenuri Rep. Chung Doo-un, with all ruling party lawmakers voting against the warrant.
“Saenuri chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung personally promised that there would be no rejection of arrest warrants (issued against lawmakers),” NPAD spokesperson Rep. Yoo Eun-hae said later in the day. “The (rejection) is shocking.”
Song is charged with receiving about 65 million won ($63,700) in 2012 from AVT and Sampyo E&C, both producers of parts for trains and railroads. Company officials asked Song to help them win government contracts related to the construction of bullet-train railways in the Jeolla provinces, prosecutors have said, in return for the kickbacks. Song was serving in the national legislature’s Land Infrastructure & Transportation Committee at the time.
Song denies the charges. The four-term lawmaker sent personal letters to fellow lawmakers earlier in the day claiming his innocence.
“I will cooperate with investigators no matter how long it takes,” Song wrote in the letters. “I will prove that I am a person with nothing to hide.”
Song is a veteran lawmaker representing a district in North Chungcheong Province. The 72-year-old has served in the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Ethics, the National Policy Committee and the Special Committee on Budgets & Accounts.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)