The Korea Herald

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지나쌤

Yoon urged to retract appointment of ex-defense chief as envoy to Australia

By Kim Arin

Published : March 7, 2024 - 16:56

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Lee Jong-sup, attending a National Assembly session as then-minister of national defense, responds to questions from lawmakers on June 1, 2023. (The Korea Herald) Lee Jong-sup, attending a National Assembly session as then-minister of national defense, responds to questions from lawmakers on June 1, 2023. (The Korea Herald)

South Korea’s main opposition party on Thursday asked President Yoon Suk Yeol to walk back the appointment of his former Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup as ambassador to Australia.

According to the Democratic Party of Korea, Lee has been banned from leaving the country by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials since the beginning of this year over an investigation into the death of a Marine.

The Marine died during a search and rescue operation in July last year amid a record downpour that wrecked homes and roads in the country's central regions. Lee, who was defense minister at the time, was accused by the opposition of downplaying the death and trying to interfere with the police investigation.

“The former defense minister is among the key suspects in the suspected obstruction of justice in the investigation of the marine’s death. It is baffling why the president would appoint someone who has already been banned from leaving the country to the post of an ambassador,” Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo, the Democratic Party floor leader, said at a party leadership meeting.

He said that sending Lee to Australia would be “like allowing a key accomplice to flee, which could be another serious crime in itself.” “The president should withdraw the nomination of Lee as ambassador to Australia immediately.”

In a press briefing held Thursday, Yoon’s presidential office declined to comment on the CIO’s ongoing investigation of the former minister. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on this day that it has issued him an ambassador’s passport despite the travel ban.

Lee resigned in September last year following calls from the Democratic Party to impeach him as defense minister.