Korean prosecutors ratchet up probes into main opposition party, raising tensions

Posted on : 2022-10-21 16:36 KST Modified on : 2022-10-21 16:36 KST
An investigation team sent by prosecutors ended up in an 8-hour standoff with members of the Democratic Party over the execution of a warrant to raid the party’s headquarters
Democratic Party members of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee hold a press conference outside the presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul, on Oct. 20 in protest of prosecutors’ attempted raid on their party’s headquarters. (Yonhap)
Democratic Party members of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee hold a press conference outside the presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul, on Oct. 20 in protest of prosecutors’ attempted raid on their party’s headquarters. (Yonhap)

Korean politics have hit a cold snap as prosecutors turn their investigation of the Daejang neighborhood development scandal to the circumstances behind the presidential campaign funds of Lee Jae-myung, leader of the Democratic Party.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office called the Democratic Party’s obstruction of its raid of the party’s headquarters “a defiance of law and order,” expressing its intent to push through with the execution of the warrant. However, seeing that a forced investigation into the headquarters of the party holding a majority in the National Assembly is unprecedented, prosecutors are considering a new method and time for carrying out their raid.

In addition, the prosecution service sought an arrest warrant for Kim Yong, vice president of the Institute for Democracy, on charges of receiving 800 million won from a private contractor involved in the Daejang neighborhood development project.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office (SCDPO) said in a statement Thursday morning that they “cannot agree with the allegations that the prosecution’s investigation into a case which is of much interest to the public as ‘politically motivated’ and ‘damaging to parliamentary inspection.’”

They went on to say that blocking the execution of a warrant issued by a court should be labeled as something that “flies in the face of the legal order and undermines the rule of law.”

The investigation team sent to carry out the raid confronted the Democratic Party for about eight hours on Wednesday outside of the party’s offices in Yeouido, Seoul, before withdrawing at 11 pm. The investigation team, sent by the SCDPO, are still adamant about the need for this seizure and search, saying that they “won’t compromise on the execution of the warrant” in response to the Democrats’ offer to voluntarily submit material on Tuesday.

Prior to this, the SCDPO arrested Kim Yong, a close aide of Lee, on charges of violating the Political Funds Act on Wednesday at 9 am. At 3 pm the same day, the prosecution attempted to raid the Democratic Party building, where Kim’s office is located, but they were unable to do so due to opposition from the party.

The Democratic Party mounted a vigorous defense against the prosecutors’ attempt to raid its headquarters, which it denounced as a “politically motivated investigation” and “political oppression.” The party observed that it’s unprecedented for the prosecutors to raid the headquarters of the largest opposition party during a parliamentary audit and that the raid isn’t even necessary since Kim Yong was appointed vice president of the party’s think tank barely a week ago.

After remaining silent on Wednesday, Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung rejected the allegations that Kim Yong accepted illicit campaign funds during an emergency meeting of lawmakers on Thursday, remarking that “the truth is obvious.” Lee also urged lawmakers to “fight together to defend democracy and prevent historical backsliding.”

While the Democratic Party had halted its parliamentary audits the previous day, it carried out the audits as planned on Thursday at all standing committees except for the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for auditing the Supreme Prosecutors' Office.

Democratic Party lawmakers effectively boycotted the audit of the SPO while demanding that the raid on the party’s headquarters be immediately called off, that President Yoon Suk-yeol and Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon apologize, that Prosecutor General Lee One-seok step down, and that Song Gyeong-ho, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, and others be reprimanded.

There was also a scuffle when Kim Do-eup, a lawmaker with the ruling People Power Party and chair of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, proceeded with the audit despite the Democratic Party’s boycott, prompting lawmakers to surround his seat to lodge a vigorous complaint.

While the prosecutors and police have raided the offices of parties’ local branches on several previous occasions, it’s extremely rare for an opposition party’s headquarters to be raided, and even that mostly happened during the military dictatorships of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan.

The last time an opposition party’s headquarters was raided was in 2012, when the Unified Progressive Party was accused of irregular primaries. Prior to that was the raid of the New Korea Democratic Party in 1986.

By Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter; Um Ji-won, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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