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Abuse of power claims against Lee Jae-myung and his wife grow

Controversy helps widen Yoon Suk-yeol's lead in ongoing race

Lee Jae-myung (right), presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, and his wife Kim Hye-kyung (left) meet residents of Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, during this year's Lunar New Year holiday earlier this month. (Democratic Party of Korea)
Lee Jae-myung (right), presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, and his wife Kim Hye-kyung (left) meet residents of Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, during this year's Lunar New Year holiday earlier this month. (Democratic Party of Korea)
Allegations of power abuse surrounding the presidential nominee for the ruling party and his wife continue to grow, with numerous accusations freshly presented since they were first raised on Jan. 28.

A new allegation was made Monday that Lee Jae-myung‘s wife Kim Hye-kyung used a Gyeonggi Provincial Government vehicle for personal purposes, attending to private matters and parking it at a resident welfare center near the apartment where Lee and Kim lived.

The two are also suspected of additionally hiring a driver who was paid 1.5 million won ($1,251) a month in cash dispensed from the official subsidies assigned to Lee as the governor. Relevant records were reportedly destroyed as Lee resigned from office to begin his run for presidency in October 2021.

The driver is suspected as the third assistant in the shadows for Lee on top of two official ones provided by the provincial government for its chief.

Rep. Park Soo-young of the main opposition People Power Party raised the allegation during a meeting at the National Assembly on Monday. The lawmaker said the allegations were brought forth by an unnamed source who first shed light on the power abuse allegations last month.

"It is known that the driver surnamed Han drove the car for candidate Lee and assisted his private activities since candidate Lee served as mayor of Seongnam," Park said during the meeting.

"Every 20th of the month, which is payday for the Gyeonggi Provincial Government, 1.5 million won in cash were taken out to pay the driver. Withdrawing official subsidies as cash is strongly against the rules."

Lee's wife has additionally faced allegations of ordering provincial government employees to deliver food, clean her house and fetch prescribed medicine for her while her husband served as the governor for the province before joining the presidential race.

The unnamed official formerly assigned to the head of policy office while Lee was the governor revealed the first round of allegations to the press on Jan. 28. Since then, the case has grown almost daily, and seems to have negatively affected Lee‘s standing in the presidential race.

The source revealed earlier that members of the policy office did grocery shopping for Lee’s family with the corporate card issued for the governor’s office under the orders of Bae So-hyeon, a former official with the Gyeonggi Provincial Government who was superior to the source in rank and power.

Some provincial government employees were also used to deliver presents to Lee’s aides and relatives for holidays, and prepare food and other items for Lee’s memorial services.

The unnamed official also revealed that she got hormone pills prescribed to give to Kim, who allegedly did not want to leave behind related medical records. The list of orders also included making the payment and processing discharge procedures for Lee’s son at a hospital after treatment.

Bae apologized in regards to the controversy, saying she only issued the orders to try to impress Lee and his wife, as opposed to having relayed their direct orders. The hormone pills were for herself, she claimed, as she needed them after being distressed with difficulties in getting pregnant.

Yet additional press reports revealed that Kim did in fact get six months-worth of hormone pills prescribed for herself separately, adding fuel to allegations that Kim had gotten the pills prescribed in proxy, which is in direct violation of the Medical Service Act.

Those who violate the conditions for allowing prescriptions to be given for others could be sentenced up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won.

The hormone pills Bae alleged to have taken were in fact for preventing pregnancy, as opposed to her earlier remarks that they were meant to assist pregnancy. Bae was also found to have received fertility treatments until late 2021, which debunks the Democratic Party of Korea’s response made Thursday.

"Bae tried for fertility in the past but did not succeed, so she was immensely distressed," Lee’s campaign team under the Democratic Party of Korea said in a statement Thursday.

"She had signs of menopause like irregular periods and depression, which forced her to give up pregnancy and take the hormone pills as a means of treatment."

The Democratic Party of Korea and Lee’s campaign aides have consistently appealed that Lee and Kim never made any orders, but did receive help from Bae from time to time as a close acquaintance. Many of the items alleged to have been bought with corporate cards for private use were purchased with his private credit cards, they claim.

Lee also apologized in a statement Thursday, saying he had failed to closely monitor the alleged wrongful acts against staff members, and that he will take responsibility for any violations found in the ongoing investigation led by the Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Policy Agency.

The investigation started with the People Power Party filing a complaint about the issue after the allegations were first raised.

"Some media outlets raised questions on suspected misuse of corporate cards issued for the Gyeonggi Provincial Government," the statement reads.

"I ask inspecting agencies to thoroughly unveil any misuse of corporate cards during the time I served as the governor, including what has already been reported. If any problems are found, I will assume responsibility as stated by regulations."

The Gyeonggi Provincial Government also announced Thursday it would start an internal inspection in concern of public sentiment, but it has already been touted as an ineffective move for the key figures in the scandal are no longer serving as public servants.

Bae and the unnamed official resigned from their roles in September and October last year, respectively, which takes away the legal power from the provincial government to forcefully summon them for questioning. Even if violations are found, they cannot be penalized as civil servants.

The same goes for Lee, who resigned from the gubernatorial post in October, and his wife Kim, who is also not a civil servant.

The inspector assigned for the case is also a figure hired for the role while Lee served as the governor, which some say undermines the credibility of how the inspection will run and what outcome it will derive. The case is unlikely to be concluded before the election is held.

The People Power Party heavily denounced Lee and his wife in regards to the controversy, saying the case directly shows that Lee is a deceitful and corrupt figure for abusing his power and making use of civil servants as his private butlers.

"It absolutely makes no sense that the candidate did not know of these until now," said Rep. Kwon Young-se, head of the presidential election campaign committee for the People Power Party.

"If he did know all these wrongful deeds like prescription by proxy and abuse of corporate card took place, that shows he is an incompetent person who can’t even manage those around him, and if he did know all these happened but let it slip, he is an accomplice aiding the crime."

The scandal is believed to have boosted support for Lee’s rival Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party, as he was shown in a number of polls to have widened his lead among four major candidates.

A Realmeter survey of 1,509 voters commissioned by OhmyNews and conducted from last Wednesday to Friday showed Yoon in the lead with 43.4 percent, followed by Lee with 38.1 percent. The difference of 5.3 percentage points is an increase of 1.7 percentage points found from the same survey conducted a week earlier.

All but one poll released this week had Yoon with a clear lead over Lee beyond their margins of error.

For more information regarding the survey results, visit the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission homepage.

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