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Lee Jun-seok at risk of penalty by ethics panel while his supporters grow vocal

Ethics panel to reach decision on July 7

People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok (Joint Press Corps)
People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok (Joint Press Corps)
People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok is at risk of penalty from an ethics panel next month in connection to sexual bribery allegations, after the committee ruled that it would punish his close aide for attempting to silence Lee’s accuser in exchange for an investment.

The party’s internal ethics panel on Wednesday deferred until July 7 a decision whether to penalize Lee for “failing to maintain dignity” and “coercing to destroy evidence” in relation to a sexual bribery case that is also under police investigation.

The panel is not discussing penalization for the allegations of sexual bribery itself, as the matter is under police investigation. The panel ruled earlier it is infeasible to penalize him for the crime that might have occurred in 2013 as not much related evidence remains today.

The ethics committee, however, decided to start the disciplinary process for Lee’s close aide, Kim Cheol-geun, over allegations that he met with Lee’s accuser earlier this year and tried to silence him by signing a promise of investment.

Depending on the severity of the penalty, Lee could be replaced from the chairman seat, and the ruling bloc could fall under an intense feud over who would replace him as the next leader of the People Power Party.

Four penalties -- a warning, party membership suspension, request to relinquish party membership and forced membership termination -- are possible. Anything other than a warning is expected to cause intense turmoil among party members, and many speculate that a decision will not be easily reached.

Lee strongly denounced the ethics panel for the delay, saying it was biding its time for any new evidence or information in their favor to be released in the meantime.

“They are merely waiting to see if anything new is introduced in the next two weeks, whatever that may be,” Lee said in a radio interview Thursday, adding that the ethics panel is “chipping away” the momentum for reform that he has started after the local elections.

While some have speculated that the push to penalize Lee is a reflection that President Yoon Suk-yeol wishes to have his close aides lead the party instead of Lee, the chairman said he does not believe that is the case for the ongoing conflict for power inside the People Power Party.

“If the president overly involves himself with items concerning the party, that could serve as an attacking point for the Democratic Party of Korea,” Lee told reporters Thursday.

“It is important that problems within the party are resolved without outside influence by having members trying their best to tone down.”

After the decision was deferred, Lee was greeted with his close aides within the party rallying support for him. They accused the ethics panel of trying to make a political decision instead of an ethical one.

Rep. Ha Tae-keung, one of Lee’s closest figures within the ruling party, said the panel was only causing party members to fight among themselves.

“The ethics panel has been dragging along and driving supporters to clash against one another without having any clear conclusions,” Ha said in a radio interview. “I can only view this behavior of the ethics panel as causing serious damage to the party.”

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