DP leader apologizes over ‘cash envelope’ bribery scandal involving party members

April 17, 2023

The leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) apologized Monday over snowballing allegations that cash envelopes were distributed to lawmakers and party members as bribes ahead of a 2021 national convention held to elect a new party leader.

Prosecutors are investigating suspicions that envelopes containing cash totaling 94 million won (US$71,700) were handed out to members of the then ruling DP to help then lawmaker Song Yong-gil be elected as the party chair ahead of the party convention in May 2021.

Song eventually won the election.

“As party leader, I deeply apologize for causing people concern over this issue,” Rep. Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the DP, said during a party meeting at the National Assembly.

Prosecutors have raided the homes and offices of Reps. Youn Kwan-suk and Lee Sung-man for their alleged involvement in distributing the money collected from regional businesspeople. Youn and Lee served in Song’s campaign ahead of the national convention.

Both have denied the allegations, accusing the prosecution of a politically motivated investigation.

Lee said the party has asked Song, who has been staying in France since last year, to return home to address the allegations.

“The entire picture of this case has not been determined yet, but I believe our party needs to clarify our position,” Lee said. “The Democratic Party takes this case seriously.”

Lee said the party will strive to determine the truth.

“As everyone knows, there is a limit in our party uncovering the truth. So we request a swift and fair investigation that takes no political considerations into account,” he said.

Song said he has discussed the issue with the DP leader and will decide on his position depending on results of the ongoing investigation.

“During phone talks with Lee last night, I fully understood his remarks and explained my stance as well,” Lee told a Yonhap News Agency correspondent in Paris over the phone. “Like I said earlier, I am unaware of the allegations and will decide on my position depending on the prosecution’s investigations.”

Prosecutors have not disclosed the names of the allegedly bribed party members, but between 10-20 DP lawmakers are suspected to have received the illicit money.

The case grew out of a separate investigation into suspicions that Lee Jung-geun, a former deputy secretary general of the DP, received illegal political funds. Lee is suspected of involvement in distributing money to party members.

The ruling People Power Party (PPP), meanwhile, stepped up criticism of the DP, requesting an emergency judiciary committee meeting on the case and even suggesting setting up a whistleblowing center within the party to receive tip-offs from DP members.

“Chairman Lee should urge related people to thoroughly cooperate with the investigation,” PPP leader Kim Gi-hyeon said in a party meeting. “Otherwise, it would be amounting to confessing that rumors are true that cash envelopes were also exchanged at the national convention where Lee was elected presidential candidate.”

Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung talks during a party meeting on April 17, 2023. (Yonhap)
Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung talks during a party meeting on April 17, 2023. (Yonhap)