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Lee’s campaign spokesperson resigns over DUI comments

Facebook post denouncing Yoon Seok-youl leads to revisiting Gov. Lee’s past criminal record

Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung (Yonhap)
A spokesperson for Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung’s presidential campaign resigned from his post Monday after it was found he had made comments defending driving under the influence.

The comment, likely made to defend the past criminal record of Lee, stirred controversy across political parties and again shone light on the presidential contender’s past criminal record, which could damage his campaign.

Park sent a text message to reporters late Monday saying he was stepping down from his role as Lee’s spokesperson, just a day after he was appointed to the post. He is believed to have resigned to take responsibility for a debate he started on alcohol and DUIs.

The debate started from his comments made towards Gov. Lee’s competitor and former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, who was spotted drinking soju with Keum Tae-sup, a former lawmaker who relinquished his membership in the Democratic Party of Korea.

“(Yoon) had fried chicken and beer with Lee Jun-seok, drank alcohol in broad daylight while in Busan and now had soju with a man resembling Judas Iscariot,” Park said in a Facebook post Sunday.

“He overlaps with President Park Geun-hye who also looked like a princess intoxicated with sleep. Why not just live as a drunkard?”

Park’s comments were immediately met with resistance from main opposition People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok, who accused Park and Gov. Lee’s campaign office of having double standards.

“Live as a drunkard? Did candidate Yoon Seok-youl drive under the influence or anything?” Lee pointed out in a Facebook post shortly after Park’s comments were made. “And the Democratic Party has always openly had drinking sessions among candidates, so why point fingers at us?”

The main opposition party leader’s comments also helped shed light on past comments and incidents of Park and Gov. Lee.

Park was sentenced to a 1 million won ($870) fine for a DUI charge in 2007, and Gov. Lee was levied a fine of 1.5 million won for a DUI in 2004. Gov. Lee was also fined 5 million won in 2004 for damaging public property and 1.5 million won in 2002 for assisting in prosecutor impersonation.

The debate also uncovered a comment from Park made last month, which appeared to defend drunk driving for those in low-income groups. Park then voiced out against former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun’s argument to bar those with DUI records from advancing to public official posts.

“Drunk driving is definitely a malpractice, but this could be ignoring the minds of those who are desperate to save up without spending more on a substitute driver service,” Park said in a Facebook post on July 15.

“Blocking social activities of those with DUI records is unfair double jeopardy.”

Once Park’s comment from July was revisited, the question was raised as to whether Park resorted to making controversial notes while trying to defend Lee’s past criminal record as a presidential contender.

Park hid the problematic post from the public and explained the comment was made for the purpose of exchanging opinions. But the fire spread to Gov. Lee himself, with politicians across parties denouncing Gov. Lee’s participation in the Democratic Party primaries as a preliminary candidate.

“The fact that drunk driving ex-convict Gov. Lee is running for president is a comedy in itself,” said Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the People Power Party, who is also running for the presidency next year. “Gov. Lee should respond in a clear manner if he agrees with the comment from his campaign spokesperson.”

Bae Jae-jung, spokesperson for the presidential campaign of Rep. Lee Nak-yon from the Democratic Party, lashed out at Park’s comments for overly trying to protect and show loyalty to Gov. Lee.

“While the comment may look like a means to deliver the struggling life of the working class, it actually was made to defend Gov. Lee’s drunk driving record,” Bae said in a written statement Monday.

“Cosplaying Gov. Lee as someone from the poor working class ended as a failed attempt. This only emphasizes that Gov. Lee was a lawyer with more than 10 years of experience back when he was indicted for driving under the influence.”

It was only hours after the controversy spread to past criminal records of Gov. Lee and his campaign spokesperson that Park announced his resignation from the post.

Gov. Lee’s campaign office commented Tuesday morning that Park’s prompt resignation was a sound decision, but asked for restraint in revisiting criminal incidents involving Gov. Lee based on the misbehavior of his campaign staff.

“Driving under the influence is an indirect murder, so it can’t be viewed simply at any moment,” said Rep. An Min-suk of the Democratic Party, who also serves as a senior staff member for Gov. Lee’s presidential campaign.

“Gov. Lee acknowledged and apologized many times for driving under the influence before taking public post. It is excessive to bring back the record of Gov. Lee merely due to what spokesperson Park Jin-young said.”

The latest controversy could negatively affect Gov. Lee’s standing in the presidential race, which consistently saw him as one of the top two contenders to succeed President Moon Jae-in.

In a poll of 1,016 people aged 18 or above conducted Saturday by PNR Research, Gov. Lee was picked as the second-most favored presidential contender with 23.2 percent, following Yoon at 35.3 percent.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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