Lee attends first trial on his development corruption, bribery cases

October 6, 2023

Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung, recuperating from his 24-day hunger strike at a hospital, appeared at a court in Seoul on Friday to attend his first trial on charges of development corruption and bribery arising from his term as mayor of Seongnam, south of Seoul, years ago.

The chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party attended the trial held at the Seoul Central District Court to deliberate on charges against him of breach of duty, conflict of interest, bribery and concealment of criminal proceeds connected to development projects in Seongnam’s Daejang-dong and Wirye districts, and the city’s municipal football club.

It was his first outing from the hospital since the court rejected the prosecution’s arrest warrant request for him on a separate corruption and bribery case nine days ago on Sept. 27.

Lee’s first trial was originally scheduled for Sept. 15 but was postponed due to his hunger strike. Lee had again asked the court to put off his first trial citing health problems but was not granted permission. A defendant is obligated to appear at formal trials.

Rep. Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, enters the Seoul Central District Court on Oct. 6, 2023. (Yonhap)
Rep. Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, enters the Seoul Central District Court on Oct. 6, 2023. (Yonhap)

In Friday’s hearing, Lee flatly rejected the allegations he facilitated business favors to private developers, effectively reiterating his long-standing point that the investigation was politically motivated and the charges against him were fabricated.

“Dozens of prosecutors were mobilized for the investigation of me and hundreds of raids were carried out,” Lee said during the hearing. “They will continue with it again and keep doing it as long as I’m alive, will they not?”

During the hearing, Lee’s lawyer and prosecutors clashed after his lawyer requested the court shorten the trial, citing Lee’s health condition. But prosecutors countered that Lee had already postponed the trial once, and that he seemed “healthy enough to be active on SNS.”

The next court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Lee, mayor of Seongnam from 2010-2018, was indicted in March this year for allegedly causing 489.5 billion won (US$375.4 million) of financial loss to the city government by approving arrangements beneficial to private partners of the Daejang-dong project. He also faces suspicions of leaking inside secrets of the city government or the city’s development corporation to private partners both in the Daejang-dong and Wirye projects.

The bribery charge involves allegations that Lee, serving as the head of Seongnam FC during his mayorship, attracted 13.3 billion won in corporate donations to the football club from four companies in return for administrative favors.

Lee is separately standing trial at the same court over alleged election law violations during his run for the 2022 presidential election.