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‘Investigate first lady’: Democratic Party of Korea pushes special counsel bill

President Yoon Suk-yeol and first lady Kim Keon-hee step on the presidential jet after attending the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, in June. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol and first lady Kim Keon-hee step on the presidential jet after attending the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, in June. (Yonhap)

The Democratic Party of Korea is seeking a special counsel to investigate first lady Kim Keon-hee while its leader, Rep. Lee Jae-myung, faces a growing risk of criminal charges.

The party’s Floor Leader Rep. Park Hong-keun said Wednesday the party would propose a bill to appoint a special counsel to lead the investigation into the first lady’s criminal allegations, the two highest-profile of which include her involvement in the Deutsch Motors stock price manipulation scandal and her use of fake credentials to land teaching jobs at universities.

Park accused police and prosecutors of “cutting the first lady Kim slack” and “simply dragging the investigation out,” and said that the way the investigation was going called for the appointment of an “impartial special counsel” to take charge.

Separately from law enforcement, he added the party would push for a parliamentary inquiry into the first lady’s possible ethics violations, namely the hiring of personal acquaintances at the presidential office.

Also on Wednesday, the Democratic Party filed a second criminal report against President Yoon Suk-yeol within a span of mere days.

The party said it has asked the prosecutors to investigate Yoon for jewelry the first lady had worn during the NATO summit in June. The necklace and bracelet she was seen wearing in photographs from the trip were not among the couple’s reported assets despite being their high price tag, the party said.

On the presidential office’s explanation that the pieces were borrowed, the party said in Wednesday’s statement that made the matters “even more problematic.” “An investigation appears necessary to find out from whom or where they had been borrowed, and if any favors were given in return,” it said.

Earlier this week the party filed a criminal report with prosecutors over the president’s denial of the first lady’s criminal suspicions, such as her stock dealings during the election campaign. As the suspicions were “turning out to be well-founded,” the party said Yoon “promulgated false information” as a candidate, which then would constitute election law violations.

Although the Constitution exempts incumbent presidents from criminal prosecution, except in the events of insurrection or treason, the party said seeking a criminal investigation of the president had a “politically symbolic meaning.”

The series of steps aimed at investigating the presidential couple come amid the looming criminal indictment of Democratic Party leader Lee, who ran against Yoon in April’s election.

On Tuesday, Lee skipped prosecutors’ request to summon him for questioning, after his party decided the investigation was “political oppression” from the Yoon administration.

Last week, police wrapped up the investigation into the 2015 real estate development project by the city of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, which was undertaken while Lee was mayor, and referred the case over to prosecutors.

The investigation concerns a dubious U-turn in the planning of a Seongnam neighborhood that was originally chosen as the site for an affordable public housing complex. Then instead of a public housing corporation, private investors suspected of having close ties with Lee became involved and reaped large profits from the city project.

After Lee refused to show up for questioning, prosecutors on Tuesday searched the office of Gyeonggi Province, where he was governor until October last year.

Lee’s spouse, Kim Hye-kyung, was called in for questioning by prosecutors in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday in an investigation into her alleged misappropriation of the province's money for personal errands like buying lunch.

Meanwhile, the ruling People Power Party has been mired in infighting that has dragged on for months.

The party’s bid to launch an emergency leadership was thwarted last month after a court decision siding with the disgraced former chair, Lee Jun-seok. Lee filed an injunction with a Seoul district court to stop the party from moving on with a new leadership without him.

The party is seeking to assemble its new leadership before the end of this week, with Lee vowing additional legal actions.

In July the party convened an ethics committee and decided to suspend Lee for six months in connection to a sexual bribery scandal that is being investigated by police. The committee said Lee “damaged the party’s dignity” by trying to cover up allegations that he accepted sexual favors from a businessperson in 2015.

But as the statutes of limitations on the alleged sexual favors have already expired, it is highly unlikely that Lee will face criminal charges.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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