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[Editorial] Let the court judge

Claims of political oppression are unconvincing; Lee's charges are his own

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 20, 2023 - 05:30

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The majority opposition Democratic Party of Korea declared “war” on the prosecution for requesting a warrant to arrest its leader Lee Jae-myung. It is bracing up for the battle to vote down the request for the National Assembly’s consent to Lee's arrest.

If the prosecution asks for a warrant to arrest a lawmaker, the court sends a request to the prosecution to seek the National Assembly's consent to the arrest. The prosecution forwards the request to the National Assembly via the Ministry of Justice and President. Members of the National Assembly have privilege of exemption from arrest and detention if the Assembly disagrees.

If the Assembly consents, the court will set the date of a pre-trial detention hearing. If the court issues a detention warrant in the hearing, the prosecution will hold the lawmaker in custody. If the Assembly refuses consent for the arrest, the court will reject the prosecution’s request without holding a pre-trial hearing.

The prosecution sought an arrest warrant for Lee on Thursday. It charged him with breach of duty and violation of the conflicts of interest prevention law in connection with Daejang-dong and Wirae development projects, and with third-party bribery in connection with alleged donations to Seongnam's professional soccer club. The three cases happened when Lee was mayor of Seongnam.

The prosecution's request for Lee's arrest looks inevitable, considering the huge scale of the losses to the city from the Daejang-dong project and the likelihood of Lee destroying evidence by coordinating his story with people involved in the cases.

He effectively refused to answer prosecutors' questions on all three occasions when he was summoned to appear before them for questioning. A Democratic Party lawmaker loyal to Lee recently visited Lee's detained closest aides and reportedly told them to "set up alibi." This remark raises suspicions of the lawmaker trying to cajole them on Lee’s behalf.

National Assembly members of the party, their aides, and chairpersons of all of its district chapters held a rally in front of the National Assembly building Friday, denouncing the Yoon government and the prosecution. On Saturday, about 5,000 members of civic groups supporting Lee rallied in front of the presidential office and Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.

Lee criticized the Yoon regime for "hunting" (him) under the guise of the rule of law. He argued that he had not accepted a cent of dirty money. He is inciting his supporters and driving the issue of his arrest into a political struggle.

The party leadership is stirring up public sentiment apparently with an intention to put pressure on its lawmakers to reject the request for consent to Lee's arrest. It is trying to prevent its lawmakers from breaking ranks.

The request for consent to arrest will be approved if a majority of the incumbent lawmakers attend to the plenary session and majority of them agrees. A secret vote on Lee’s arrest is scheduled to be held on Feb. 27.

Disapproval of the request is likely. The Democratic Party currently holds 169 out of the 299 seats in the Assembly, and for now, only a handful of its lawmakers will likely vote for arrest.

Nevertheless, the party's claim that the attempt to arrest Lee is an act of political oppression and retaliation is unconvincing. The Daejang-dong project and donations to Seongnam FC took place when Lee was Seongnam mayor. They have nothing to do with the party's activities. Suspicions on the Daejang-dong project were first raised in 2021 and investigations began under the Moon Jae-in administration when the Democratic Party was the governing party.

Lee, as the final decision maker in the Seongnam city government, probably knew more deeply than anyone else about the allegations. He must explain them faithfully to investigators and judges.

During his presidential campaign, he vowed to abolish lawmakers' privilege of avoiding arrest and pre-trial detention hearing through the Assembly vote. If so, he should set an example.

He must stop relying on supporters and a parliamentary majority and say that he would attend the court’s pre-trial detention hearing voluntarily. If he and his party are open and aboveboard, it is right to let the court judge.