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Vice justice minister under fire over violence against cab driver

Vice Justice Minister Lee Yong-gu speaks during a briefing session in Seoul last Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Vice Justice Minister Lee Yong-gu speaks during a briefing session in Seoul last Wednesday. (Yonhap)
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has been assigned to look into civic groups’ complaint against Vice Justice Minister Lee Yong-gu over allegations he was not duly punished for grabbing a taxi driver by the collar early last month.

Lee, reportedly drunk at the time, was reported to police for his violent act, but police closed the case as the victim said two days later that he didn’t want to press charges.

Lee allegedly grabbed the cab driver around the neck when he tried to wake him after reaching his home in Seocho-gu, Seoul on the night of Nov. 6.

Lee, a lawyer at the time, was named vice justice minister about 20 days later.

A civic group that champions the rule of law in its name and a group of people preparing to take the bar exam filed the complaint against Lee on charges of violating the Act on Aggravated Punishment of Specific Crimes.

The Chosun Ilbo daily reported that the taxi driver had initially told police that Lee opened the cab door while the car was waiting for a traffic light to change, and swore at the driver when told not to do that.

Two police officers who arrived at the scene initially reported that the law on aggravated punishment could apply to this case as Lee used violence against a driver operating a motor vehicle.

The driver later changed his statement, saying the profanity did not seem to be directed at him.

Lee apologized to the taxi driver and the Korean people in a statement Monday, saying he is sorry for causing concern over a personal matter.

“I think the police will clear things up about my case. I will exercise more prudence as I have become a public official,” he said.

Under the law on aggravated punishment, anyone who uses violence or threatens a driver operating a motor vehicle can be subject to jail term of up to five years or a fine of up to 20 million won ($18,000).

Main opposition People Power Party leader Joo Ho-young said Tuesday that Lee’s case shows how the “big shots of this administration” treat others.

Joo called on President Moon Jae-in to replace Lee, saying that if he does not, it would be the same as “admitting that a senior official of the administration can grab other people by the collar.”

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)​
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