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As criminal probe zeroes in on party chair, opposition takes aim at presidential couple

Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the chairperson of the Democratic Party of Korea, was summoned for questioning by prosecutors on Tuesday. He did not show up. (Yonhap)
Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the chairperson of the Democratic Party of Korea, was summoned for questioning by prosecutors on Tuesday. He did not show up. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party of Korea has erupted over the escalating criminal investigation of its leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung, who decided not to show up for questioning by prosecutors on Tuesday.

The Democratic Party’s chief spokesperson Rep. Ahn Ho-young said in a statement Tuesday that Lee was not going to appear at the Seoul prosecutors’ office for the questioning session and that he would opt to give written responses instead.

Ahn then characterized the investigation as a “nit-picking political persecution,” adding that Lee was “not going to let himself get dragged into it.”

The Democratic Party convened an emergency meeting Monday, in which its members agreed that Lee would not to accede to prosecutors’ request to question him in the investigation.

Following the meeting, the party issued a statement accusing the Yoon Suk-yeol administration and the country’s prosecutors of “political oppression.” “Our party vows to fight against political oppression of the current administration and stand for the people,” it said.

The Democratic Party said the police and prosecutors, while “unfairly targeting” Lee, were “going easy on” first lady Kim Keon-hee, who is embroiled in her own set of criminal suspicions.

The party is pushing to pass laws to appoint a special counsel to lead the investigations into Kim, and has filed a report with prosecutors to investigate the president for lying during the campaign by “falsely denying” the first lady was culpable.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the ruling People Power Party’s Rep. Kweon Seong-dong said Lee “should not behave like he is above the law” and slammed the Democratic Party as “attacking and sowing distrust in the South Korean criminal justice system.”

Lee is being investigated for the controversial 2015 real estate project he pursued as the mayor of Seongnam, a city in Gyeonggi Province.

While he was mayor Lee changed the city’s housing plan to build commercial apartment buildings in Daejang-dong, an area that was initially approved to adding public residential facilities. Controversy arose after some of the businesspeople who reaped large profits from the project were speculated to have close ties with Lee.

Police investigation into the project began following a parliamentary questioning in October last year, where Lee testified he was “forced to change the land use plan” due to pressure from the Ministry of Land.

Police sent Lee’s case over to prosecutors after concluding that there was no evidence to support his claims that he was pressured by the Land Ministry to make a suspicious U-turn in a real estate development project.

Seoul prosecutors requested to summon Lee for questioning on Friday, on the first day of the new National Assembly session, a few days after taking up the case from the police.

Ahead of Lee’s election as the leader, the Democratic Party deleted its rules that barred members from holding positions after a criminal indictment.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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