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DP seeks to impeach ministers over lifting of envoy's travel ban

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : March 11, 2024 - 15:29

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Democratic Party of Korea Chair Lee Jae-myung, center, and Democratic Party Floor Leader Hong Ihk-pyo, second from right, holds signs protesting the Yoon Suk-yeol administration's decision to lift former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup's travel ban, at the National Assembly in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea Chair Lee Jae-myung, center, and Democratic Party Floor Leader Hong Ihk-pyo, second from right, holds signs protesting the Yoon Suk-yeol administration's decision to lift former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup's travel ban, at the National Assembly in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

The main opposition party said Monday they seek to impeach two incumbent ministers accused of peddling their influence in lifting former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup's travel ban.

Lee departed for Australia on Sunday to take office as Seoul's top envoy to Canberra, two days after the Justice Ministry lifted his travel ban imposed by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials' in January for allegedly delaying a probe into the death of a young Marine in July 2023.

Democratic Party of Korea Floor Leader Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo announced that the party would pursue the impeachment of Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and Justice Minister Park Sung-jae, holding them accountable for "obstruction of investigation and abuse of power."

"This is an unprecedented situation in which a government agency has helped a key defendant escape overseas (by abusing their authority)," Hong said during a party leadership's meeting held at the National Assembly.

"We plan to pursue impeachment of the current Foreign Minister and Justice Minister after reviewing and examining the law upon convening a standing committee. (We also) plan to prosecute the two incumbent ministers and other officials involved in the appointment of Lee as South Korea's ambassador to Canberra and his (recent departure to Australia)," he added.

Hong pledged to handle the agenda in the first plenary session held after the April 10 legislative election, while mentioning that a special investigation bill pushing for a detailed probe into the young Marine's death has already been designated as a "fast-track bill." If a bill is put on the fast track, it may be voted on without the need for bipartisan support. Such bills are required to be reviewed by the related standing committees within 180 days, though it will be scrapped if it is not passed before the current Assembly's term ends.

Several minor parties, including the Rebuilding Korea Party recently launched by former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and the Green Justice Party, expressed willingness to endorse the main opposition's move to impeach the officials in the Cabinet.

The Yoon Suk Yeol administration's decision to appoint Lee as top envoy to Canberra sparked public outrage after Lee was accused of downplaying the death of Marine Cpl. Chae Su-geun, who was swept away by an overflowing stream near the country's central region of Yecheon County on July 19 last year while on a mission to search for victims of the storm. Chae's death sparked criticism that his commanders ordered the operation without taking proper safety measures.

In the Justice Ministry's latest move, the presidential office on Monday denied accusations that the travel ban lift would disrupt the state-run anti-corruption agency's ongoing investigation against Lee.

"It would be incorrect to say (that the ministry's decision was a disruption to the investigation)," an official at the presidential office, requesting anonymity, told reporters.

The official echoed the Justice Ministry's earlier explanation that the ban was lifted after taking into consideration that it was extended multiple times without much inquiry. On top of it, Lee pledged to cooperate with the investigators, vowing to "return whenever he is summoned."