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Assembly veto of arrest motion sparks backlash

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Published : 2014-09-04 20:48
Updated : 2014-09-04 20:48

The parliamentary veto of an arrest motion for a ruling party lawmaker accused of graft triggered waves of fiery criticism Thursday.

The Constitution gives lawmakers immunity from arrest while the National Assembly is in session, unless a parliamentary majority accepts a warrant from the Justice Ministry.

But critics have charged lawmakers with abusing the privilege, as legislators have rejected a majority of arrest motions for fellow lawmakers accused of criminal violations. About 70 percent of arrest motions for lawmakers have been turned down by legislators since 2003.

Wednesday’s rejection of the arrest warrant filed against ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Song Kwang-ho gave critics a new cause for anger, with impassionate criticism and satire dominating local headlines.

Song has been accused of accepting 65 million won ($63,800) in 2012 from AVT and Sampyo E&C, companies producing parts for trains and railroads. Prosecutors have said officials from the two corporations bribed Song hoping the lawmaker would help the companies win government contracts related to the construction of high-speed railways in southwestern Korea. Song has denied the charges, and vowed to cooperate with authorities.

Once his arrest motion was denied in the parliament on Wednesday, Song smiled and shook hands with fellow lawmakers.

Local dailies fired volleys of criticism at the decision, likening the nation’s lawmaking body to an institution above the law.

Even conservative newspapers joined in the condemnation, atypically toning up their criticism of the conservative Saenuri Party.

“Surprise and criticism for the veto could have been better avoided if Saenuri Party chair Rep. Kim Moo-sung and floor leader Rep. Lee Wan-koo had not promised they would accept any arrest motion filed against lawmakers,” the Joongang Ilbo, a conservative newspaper, wrote in an editorial. “(Kim’s and Lee’s) words turned out to be nothing more than fabrications.”

An editorial in the right-leaning Chosun Ilbo newspaper wrote, “Parties have shown remarkable harmony every time an arrest motion has been filed, in contrast with their usual political bickering.”

Opposition lawmakers also denounced the parliamentary decision. But critics also pointed their fingers at main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmakers, many of whom are suspected to have joined in the vote that rejected Saenuri Rep. Song’s arrest motion.

Of 223 lawmakers who participated in the anonymous secret ballot, only 73 voted in favor of the arrest warrant. With 114 of the 256 lawmakers present belonging to the NPAD, some are suspected of having sided with Song.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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