Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, is pictured at his office inside the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, 13 September 2023, as he stages a hunger strike for the 14th day in a row. EFE-EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT/FILE

South Korean parliament to vote on lifting opposition leader immunity

Seoul, Sep 19 (EFE).- South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol signed a motion Tuesday for parliament to vote on whether to withdraw the immunity of main opposition party leader Jae-myung, whom prosecutors want arrested over his alleged involvement in several corruption cases.

The Seoul Central District Office sent the arrest warrant to the government and Yoon, who is in New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly and has already signed the document, South Korea’s Presidential Office reported. Parliament is expected to vote on the matter Thursday.

The prosecutor’s office, which requested Lee’s arrest Monday, accuses him of being involved in an urban development plot in Seongnam, a city on the outskirts of Seoul where he was mayor between 2010 and 2018. He’s 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 the country.

Lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party ask leader Lee Jae-myung (L) to stop his hunger strike at his office at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, 15 September 2023, the 16th day of his fast. EFE-EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT/FILE

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

In any case, a court can only deliberate on the prosecutor’s arrest request once it is approved by parliament, since every parliamentarian in South Korea enjoys immunity.

Rescue workers move Lee Jae-myung, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, on a stretcher from his office at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, 18 September 2023 to hospital due to deteriorating health conditions on the 19th day of his hunger strike there. EFE-EPA/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT/FILE

After the prosecutor’s office first requested Lee’s arrest by accusing him of being linked to two other corruption scandals in February, parliament voted and decided not to withdraw his immunity by a single vote.

Given that the Democratic Party of Korea holds a clear majority over the ruling People Power Party, the vote showed many in Lee’s party do not support his leadership.

In turn, Lee and his followers have defended his innocence and argued that the prosecution’s investigation is politically motivated orchestrated from the president’s office, since Yoon was state attorney general just before coming to power.

Lee is currently hospitalized due to a hunger strike he began 20 days ago in protest of the government’s policies, which he calls unconstitutional. EFE