Lee Jae-myung’s possible arrest looms over main opposition party

Bomi Yoon

Supporters of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea sign petitions to oppose the arrest of the party’s chairman, Rep. Lee Jae-myung, at the temporary office of Jin Gyo-hoon, who is running in by-elections to be the head of Gangseo District Office, in Seoul, Sunday. Yonhap

DPK chairman ends 24-day hunger strike

By Kim Hyun-bin

The fate of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is at stake, as the arrest warrant hearing for its leader, Rep. Lee Jae-myung, who faces multiple charges including breach of trust, bribery and violation of the Foreign Exchange Transaction Act, among others, will be held on Tuesday.

The outcome, including the possibility of his arrest, has the potential to cast a dark cloud over the largest opposition party, with general elections only six months away.

The arrest motion for the DPK chairman, presented by the prosecution, accusing him of multiple charges related to a development scandal and the unauthorized transfer of money to North Korea, was approved by the National Assembly in a 149-136 vote on Thursday.

The Assembly’s approval was a prerequisite for the court hearing to take place to review the prosecution’s request to detain Lee, as he is a sitting lawmaker who is immune from arrest while the Assembly is in session.

Chief Judge Yoo Chang-hoon, a judicial veteran with 29 years of experience, will oversee the examination of the arrest warrant on Tuesday. A final determination regarding Lee’s arrest is expected on Tuesday evening or early morning Wednesday. The schedule, however, is changeable due to a possible deterioration in Lee’s health caused by his 24-day hunger strike.

Lee, who began a hunger strike on Aug. 31 in protest against the Yoon Suk Yeol government’s policies, ended his fast on the 24th day, Saturday.

“Lee has decided to suspend his hunger strike and undergo treatment for his full recovery,” the party spokesman Kang Sun-woo said, noting that the decision was influenced by recommendations from Lee’s medical team.

The DPK chairman is expected to temporarily leave the hospital to attend the arrest warrant hearing at the court on Tuesday, according to the party insiders.

Rep. Lee Jae-myung, right, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, shakes hands with Jin Gyo-hoon, who is running in by-elections to be the head of Gangseo District Office, during the latter’s visit to Lee at a hospital in Seoul, Friday. Yonhap

Lee faces a litany of charges, including illicit inter-Korean fund transfers, favoritism in the Baekhyeon-dong apartment development in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province and perjury.

Prosecutors have cited the seriousness of the crimes and possibile destruction of evidence as grounds for the arrest warrant request.

The worst-case scenario for the party is the leader’s arrest, as it will intensify disputes between party factions.

Given that senior lawmakers supporting Lee have severely criticized at least 29 lawmakers of the party who voted for the arrest, some say the unprecedented arrest of the leader of the largest opposition party could result in dividing the party ahead of the general elections.

Against this backdrop, the leadership of the DPK has taken action, dispatching letters to its lawmakers as well as 17 city and provincial party offices and regional chapter heads, requesting a petition to oppose the arrest warrant for Lee.

In the event that the court dismisses the prosecution’s request for the warrant, Lee is expected to resolve the intra-party conflict as an urgent task to solidify his damaged leadership.

Meanwhile, the DPK has undertaken the procedure for choosing a replacement for Park Kwang-on, the former floor leader, who stepped down following the approval of the arrest motion for Lee.

The election of a new floor leader will also take place on Tuesday.

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