Opposition leader proposes special counsel probe into Seongnam development scandal

October 21, 2022

Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung called Friday for an independent counsel investigation into a corruption scandal that led to an arrest warrant request for one of his closest aides, claiming his innocence as a prosecution probe closes in on him.

Lee of the main opposition Democratic Party made the remark after prosecutors sought the warrant for Kim Yong, a longtime confidant of Lee, for allegedly receiving 847 million won (US$593,552) in illegal political funds from real estate developers involved in a corruption-laden project in the city of Seongnam.

Prosecutors suspect the money was used to help finance Lee’s presidential campaign.

“I didn’t receive even a piece of candy, let alone presidential campaign funds,” Lee said.

Lee urged President Yoon Suk-yeol and the ruling People Power Party (PPP) to agree to a special prosecutor investigation into the development corruption scandal in Seongnam, including allegations of irregularities involving Yoon.

“I officially ask the president and the ruling party,” Lee said. “Please accept a special probe.”

The presidential office declined to comment, while the PPP immediately rejected the request, saying Lee is trying to stall for time.

Lee later told reporters his party will push for an independent probe even if the PPP is against it. The DP, which holds a parliamentary majority with 169 out of 299 seats, has the power to pass a special investigation bill through the National Assembly.

But even if such a bill passes, the president can veto it.

Main opposition Democratic Party Chair Lee Jae-myung adjusts his glasses on Oct. 20, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

Main opposition Democratic Party Chair Lee Jae-myung adjusts his glasses on Oct. 20, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

Lee and his party have denounced the prosecution investigation as a political reprisal and an attempt to suppress the opposition.

“The government and the ruling party seem to be trying to annihilate and deny the existence of the opposition party,” Lee said.

Prosecutors have been looking into the corruption scandal centering on allegations that a little-known asset management firm, Hwacheon Daeyu, made massive profits from a development project in the Daejang-dong district of Seongnam thanks to arrangements made when Lee was mayor of the city.

The scandal dogged Lee through the presidential campaign.

Lee has denied any wrongdoing, and raised suspicions during the campaign that the family of his election rival Yoon was connected to one of the developers involved in the project. Yoon denied the allegations.

The investigation recently gained speed after Yoo Dong-gyu, former acting president of Seongnam Development Corp. involved in the land development project, told investigators that he relayed the money to DP chief’s aide from private developers.

DP floor leader Park Hong-geun raised suspicion that prosecutors released Yoo in return for the statement.

Yoo was arrested and indicted last year for his alleged involvement in the development scandal and other charges and was released from jail early Thursday due to an expiration of a legal detainment period.

“We have to suspect that Yoo Dong-gyu and the prosecution had a shared interest in lowering the criminal penalty for Yoo and weaving Lee Jae-myung into the case through Kim,” Park said in a radio interview.