Lee Jae-myung (C), leader of South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party, leaves the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, 26 September 2023, after a court hearing to review the legality of his detention over corruption charges. EFE-EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT

Court denies South Korean opposition leader arrest

Seoul, Sep 27 (EFE).- A court in the Central District of Seoul denied Wednesday the arrest warrant requested by the Prosecutor’s Office against main opposition party leader Lee Jae-myung, accused of corruption.

The ruling, adopted in the early hours of Wednesday morning, says it is “difficult to see the justification and need for his arrest” when understanding that there is no risk of escape or destruction of evidence.

Shortly after the resolution was announced, Lee expressed his gratitude to the court for “clearly demonstrating that he is the last bastion of human rights.”

The Democratic Party leader began a hunger strike to protest conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol’s government’s policies, and accused it of “liquidating” the democratic order.

He said Yoon’s party was toughening media laws and not condemning the dumping of treated water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea, though critics said the measure sought to divert attention from accusations of corruption.

Prosecutors said he is involved in an urban plot in Seongnam, a city on the outskirts of Seoul where he was mayor between 2010 and 2018. He’s also accused of requesting a company to transfer about $8 million to North Korean authorities between 2019 and 2020 – a crime in South Korea without prior authorization – to obtain an invitation to visit from Pyongyang.

Lee Jae-myung (C), leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, is released from the Seoul Detention Center in Uiwang, 25 kilometers south of Seoul, South Korea, 27 September 2023, after a court rejected an arrest warrant sought for him. EFE-EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT

At that time Lee was governor of Gyeonggi, the province that surrounds Seoul and the most populated in the country (more than 13 million inhabitants), and was emerging as a candidate for the 2022 presidential elections, defending rapprochement between the two Koreas.

The deliberation over his possible arrest has been made possible by the National Assembly voting on Thursday to lift the immunity Lee enjoyed under his seat.

The chamber approved withdrawing his immunity by 149 votes in favor and 136 against, a result that shows Lee has lost the favor of many members of his party, given his party has a parliamentary majority of 167 seats, compared to 111 for the ruling and conservative People’s Power Party.

In February, the Prosecutor’s Office requested the arrest of Lee on account of other different corruption schemes for which they are being tried. The National Assembly then held a vote in which it was finally decided, by a single vote, not to withdraw Lee’s immunity, showing his leadership over his party was beginning to lessen. EFE