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[Newsmaker] Liberal politicians embroiled in organized crime scandal

Angry online petitions are being filed to the presidential office after a TV program accused Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung, as well as Seongnam Mayor Eun Soo-mi, of maintaining an illicit relationship with members of an organized crime syndicate, among others.

Lee, 53, considered among the most influential politicians in the ruling Democratic Party, is accused of having secret ties to a gang believed to be involved with a controversial murder case that took place in Pattaya, Thailand, in 2015.

At the time, it was revealed that the victim was a young Korean man whose surname was Lim. The suspect, another Korean man named Kim Hyung-jin, managed to disappear and escape investigation. He was eventually arrested in Vietnam in April this year and was sent to Seoul. 

Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)

But according to the TV documentary, Kim was living a comfortable life as a property owner when they recently tracked him down. Reporters of the documentary claim that Kim was a member of a Seongnam-based, international gang and, like many other members of the group, may have been  illicitly and financially supported by the Seongnam Metropolitan Government.

Lee, who was formerly a human rights lawyer, served as mayor of Seongnam -- the second largest city in Gyeonggi Province -- for eight years from 2010-2018, before being elected as Gyeonggi Province governor in June. Lee’s successor, current Mayor Eun, also has been accused of maintaining a relationship with the gang by the TV program.

The documentary accused Lee of defending two of the gang members in 2007 when he was working as a human rights lawyer.

Lee admitted to defending the particular individuals, but said he was not aware that they were members of the criminal organization. “As a lawyer I’ve defended thousands of individuals for some 20 years,” Lee said in a lengthy statement. “They are just two of countless cases I’ve dealt with.”

Lee also denied other accusations, saying they are “groundless” and “malicious.”
Seongnam Mayor Eun Soo-mi (Yonhap)
Seongnam Mayor Eun Soo-mi (Yonhap)

For Seongnam Mayor Eun, it is not the first time she has been embroiled in such accusations. In April, a former driver surnamed Choi made a public allegation that Eun had received illicit funds of some 2 million won ($1,770) a month from a businessman who had been part of a gang, and he also provided a number of drivers to work for her. 

Choi said the businessman provided the “service” for Eun from June 2016 to May 2017.

Eun denied the accusations at the time, saying she mostly used public transportation when commuting to work.

Angry petitions are being filed to the presidential office, asking for Lee and Eun’s resignations and thorough investigations into the allegations.

Eun is best known for setting the record for the longest filibuster in Korean history, delivering an address of 10 hours and 18 minutes on the parliamentary floor to block the passage of an anti-terrorism bill in 2016. A former labor-rights scholar and activist, she is currently the only woman mayor within the Gyeonggi Province.

Lee, on the other hand, is considered among the most powerful figures -- and a favored potential presidential contender -- within the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. 

by Claire Lee (
Korea Herald daum