(ATTN: UPDATES with DP leaders’ resignation in 6th para; ADDS photo)
By Kim Han-joo, Lee Haye-ah and Kang Jae-eun
SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) — The National Assembly on Thursday passed a motion seeking parliamentary consent to the potential arrest of opposition leader Lee Jae-myung, a surprise result that shows a number of dissenting votes from Lee’s own Democratic Party (DP).
With the motion’s passage in a 149-136 vote, a court hearing will be held to determine whether to grant the prosecution’s request for an arrest warrant for Lee on corruption charges in connection with a land development project and a company’s illegal cash remittance to North Korea.
But it is unclear whether Lee will show up for the hearing, considering he has been on a hunger strike since Aug. 31 to protest President Yoon Suk Yeol’s handling of state affairs and was hospitalized earlier this week due to deteriorating health.
The motion needed at least 148 votes in favor to pass. Given that Lee’s DP has 168 lawmakers in the 298-member National Assembly, the result suggests that dozens of DP lawmakers voted in favor of the potential arrest of their party leader.
The result was even more surprising, because Lee appealed for the motion’s rejection a day earlier.
Later in the day, the party’s floor leader Park Kwang-on, secretary general Cho Jung-sik and other officials offered to resign during a lawmakers’ meeting, taking responsibility for the passage of the motion, DP’s spokesperson Lee So-young said.
By law, sitting lawmakers are immune from arrest while parliament is in session and can be arrested only when the National Assembly consents to it. But the privilege came under criticism that it is abused to protect corrupt politicians.
“We are very surprised and in shock. The leadership had requested members to vote against the motion, but we feel regretful the results came otherwise,” the spokesperson said. “I think the leadership need to gather immediately and discuss this matter.”
The presidential office did not release an official statement regarding Thursday’s vote.
The prosecution accuses Lee of committing breach of trust worth 20 billion won (US$15.06 million) by giving special treatment to a private developer in the Baekhyeon-dong district apartment project in the city of Seongnam, south of Seoul, between 2014 and 2015, when he was serving as the city’s mayor.
Lee is also suspected of asking Ssangbangwool Group, an underwear maker, to illegally transfer $8 million to North Korea between 2019 and 2020, when he was serving as Gyeonggi Province governor, through his deputy to facilitate his visit to the North and push for a joint smart farm project between his province and Pyongyang.
It was the second time that the prosecution has sought an arrest warrant for Lee.
In February, the prosecution’s attempt to detain Lee on allegations of corruption in two separate corruption cases fell through after parliamentary disapproval.
Also on Thursday, the opposition-controlled parliament voted 175-116 for a motion calling for the dismissal of Prime Minister Han Duck-soo. The DP submitted the dismissal motion to the parliament Monday, accusing the prime minister of serious incompetence as chief of the Cabinet and holding him responsible for President Yoon Suk Yeol’s policies.
It was the first time a dismissal motion against a prime minister passed through the National Assembly.
Yoon is widely expected to reject it.
The DP has passed two dismissal motions since the launch of the Yoon administration — one against Foreign Minister Park Jin and another against Interior Minister Lee Sang-min. Both were rejected by the president.