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[Newsmaker] Main opposition plagued by corruption allegations

President Moon Jae-in’s ongoing campaign to right past wrongs has put the main opposition Liberty Korea Party on edge. From a first-term lawmaker to party heavyweights, over seven of its politicians have been investigated for corruption or are soon to face interrogation.

The latest to come under scrutiny was five-term lawmaker Rep. Won Yoo-chul, who on Wednesday was questioned by the prosecution on the allegation of receiving hundreds of millions of won in illicit political funds from local businessmen. 

Rep. Won Yoo-chul of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party appears at Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office to be questioned over allegations of receiving illicit political funds, in Seoul on Wedneday. (Yonhap)
Rep. Won Yoo-chul of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party appears at Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office to be questioned over allegations of receiving illicit political funds, in Seoul on Wedneday. (Yonhap)

His office had been raided by the prosecution and his former aide was arrested last month, along with a real estate developer based in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province -- Won’s constituency.

A prominent member of the party and a loyalist of ousted former President Park Geun-hye, Rep. Won said he would earnestly cooperate with the prosecution as he appeared in front of the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office in the morning.

Rep. Won is far from the only one going through a prosecution probe in the conservative opposition party.

On Tuesday, first-term lawmaker Rep. Um Yong-soo was charged without detention as prosecutors suspect he colluded with an aide to take a bribe of 200 million won ($183,000) from a campaign manager in his constituency of Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province.

A two-term lawmaker, Rep. Lee Woo-hyun has also been called on by the prosecution on receiving kickbacks, while Reps. Kweon Seong-dong and Yeom Dong-yeol are similarly expected to be investigated over unfair hiring practices in the casino resort of Kangwon Land, located in their constituencies in Gangwon Province.

For a four-term lawmaker and staunch supporter of the former president, Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan, the Justice Ministry submitted a motion Tuesday seeking parliamentary consent for his arrest.

The prosecution sought an arrest warrant for the lawmaker after they questioned Choi for receiving 100 million won from the nation’s intelligence agency when he was sitting as the deputy prime minister and finance minister under the Park administration in 2014.

For an incumbent legislator to be arrested while the National Assembly is in session, the parliament needs to pass the motion to give a consent.

The newly elected floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party, Rep Kim Sung-tae called the prosecution’s moves part of the liberal Moon Jae-in administration’s “political vendetta” against opposition parties.

“We believe that the government has deliberately brought up issues such as bribery cases involving the National Intelligence Service as a political vendetta and to pressure the opposition,” he said.

Previously, the prosecution concluded that floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Woo Won-shik would be free from suspicion of paying a politician to abandon his candidacy in the 2012 general election.

A former lawmaker of the minor opposition People’s Party, Choi Myeong-gil, was stripped of his membership at the parliament on Dec. 5, after the nation’s top court confirmed the original verdict to fine him 2 million won for violating election law.

According to law, legislators are disqualified from their position if they receive fines of over 1 million won or a jail sentence.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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