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28.11.2022 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

ROK Prosecutors’ Office is tightening its noose on Lee Jae-myung

Although the latest article on how the investigation into possible abuse and corruption by people close to opposition leader Lee Jae-myung is going was not so long ago, new facts and new cases are emerging one after the other.

Continuation of the Seongnamgate

The last episode ended with the arrest of one of Lee’s closest associates, Kim Yong, Deputy Director of the Institute for Democracy, who was charged with receiving 847 million won (US$591,000) from those involved in the Daejang-dong district development corruption scandal in Seongnam City.

On November 8, the Prosecutors’ Office charged Kim Yong with violating the Political Funds Act, but it did not end there. On November 9, the home and workplace of Jeong Jin-sang, who is the political coordinator in the office of the head of the Democratic Party, was searched.  Lee Jae-myung himself called him his right-hand man, and now another politician close to him is suspected of receiving bribes of about 140 million won (US$101,973) as well as several expensive gifts from the Seongnamgate perpetrators between 2013 and 2020.

On November 15, prosecutors questioned Jeong Jin-sang for 14 hours, but he emphatically denied the charges. On November 19, 2022, Jeong Jin-sang was arrested and experts saw this as an indication that the investigation was closing in on Lee Jae-myung.

It should be noted that the conservative and English-language media are not commenting on the progress of the investigation in the style of “Sick him!”. Rather, they remind their readers that the investigation against the head of the opposition must have an unshakable basis.

Case of possible currency smuggling to the DPRK

The story of currency smuggling allegedly involving the Ssang bang wool underwear company is also developing.  On November 10, Ahn Bu-soo, the head of the non-profit organization Asia Pacific Exchange Association (APEA), which was involved in assisting North Korea, was detained. Ahn is being blamed for meeting with North Koreans in China in 2019 and handing them a large sum of dollars. Allegedly, prosecutors recently uncovered circumstances indicating that Ssang bang wool and APEA had delivered $1.5 million and $500,000 respectively to North Korea.

In addition, the investigation is looking into whether any funds from Gyeonggi-do province, of which Lee Jae-myung was governor, were included in these sums. And, of course, the head of the People Power, Chung Jin-suk, has already written on social media that, “We must reveal the full details of how much money has [been] sent to North Korea by Lee Jae-myung’s triangular connection between Gyeonggi Province, the Asia-Pacific Peace Interchange Association (APPIA) and Ssangbangwool Group”.

It is known that from 2018 to 2019, when Lee was governor of the province, it sent 2 billion won ($1.5 million) to APEA to support North Korea-related projects.   APEA then launched an ethereum-based crypto-token called APP427, whose initials come from a combination of the acronym “Asia Pacific Peace” and the date of the inter-Korean summit on April 27, 2018. The coin was intended for donations to North Korea and to fund projects to introduce North Korean restaurants and beer to South Korea.

 Chung Jin-suk believes that the Ssang bang wool Group and APEA directly supplied cash to North Korea in order to gain rights to inter-Korean business. It is alleged that Ssang bang wool paid 2 billion won to cover Lee Jae-myung’s legal fees, and in 2019 hired Chairman Ahn Bu-soo as a board director of its subsidiary Nanos, which has since been renamed SBW Life Sciences.

Other cases against VIP Democrats

Former Gangwon provincial governor Choi Moon-soon, a prominent figure in the Democratic camp in the past, is under investigation. He is accused of obstructing the sale of the Pyeongchang Alpensia Resort (built for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics). A total of three suspects in the case include former Governor Choi, the Gangwon provincial government official in charge of selling the resort, and a high-ranking official from the KH Group that won the bid to buy the resort.

The other person under investigation is four-term MP Noh Woong-rae, a former member of the party’s supreme council. Noh is now under suspicion of receiving a total of 60 million won (US$44,676) from a certain businessman in exchange for business services between February and December 2020.  The giver of bribe claims he gave the deputy 40 million won for his campaign to help his own business, and another 20 million won for recommendations for executive positions in the regional tax office and a utility firm. But Woong-rae strongly denied the accusations. It is alleged that the as yet unnamed giver of bribe lobbied for the interests of many figures linked to former liberal presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in. Therefore, other MPs, including heavyweights such as Roh Woong-rae, could also be in the crosshairs. Prosecutors reportedly found traces of bribes to more than a dozen prominent Democrats after the arrest of Lee Jong-kyung, former Deputy Secretary General of the Democratic Party: he allegedly received almost 1 billion won in bribes from the same businessman.

To summarize, even though the painful accusations of complicity in the smuggling of currency to the North so far do not look anything more than a fantasy of the Conservatives, the echoes of the Seongnamgate could be quite painful. Although the Democrats deny everything, let’s see if the Prosecutors’ Office has anything other than the testimony of the developers, if another witness “dies” and if new stories emerge. One thing is important – the investigation must really show that the trial against the opposition leader is not just a manufactured political revenge, but a serious case that will not fall apart in court.

   Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia, the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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