BUSAN/YANGSAN, South Gyeongsang Province -- In one of his first steps in the new year, Democratic Party of Korea chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung on Monday visited the residence of former President Moon Jae-in, skipping President Yoon Suk-yeol’s New Year event held on the same day.
Monday’s meeting took place behind closed doors, with at least hundreds of meters from the vicinity of the ex-president’s residence barricaded, barring access to dozens of reporters who were there.
Lee left immediately following his meeting with Moon, which lasted for about an hour and a half, without responding to questions from reporters. He waved to his supporters waiting outside the former president’s barricaded neighborhood that were chanting his name. The supporters’ cheers were mixed with boos from protesters calling for the Democratic Party leader’s arrest.
The main opposition leader’s reunion with the last Democratic Party president comes as a widening criminal investigation into a real estate scandal closes in on Lee and his associates.
Lee is due to appear before prosecutors later this week for his suspected role in the controversial real estate project he undertook while serving as the mayor of Seongnam. He faces the allegations that he let select private investors profit from the project, and then lied about it during the 2022 presidential election, for which he ran as the Democratic Party candidate.
Jeong Jin-sang, whom Lee has on more than one occasion referred to as his “political ally” and formerly the party leader’s vice chief of staff, was indicted last month for receiving bribes from one of the project’s developers.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Lee said that the former president told him, “our hard-earned democracy must not regress.”
“I share the same sentiments,” the Democratic Party leader said.
He added that former first lady Kim Jung-sook prepared a Pyongyang-style meal herself for him and other party leaders who visited.
“I’ll cherish former President Moon and first lady Kim’s warm welcome,” he wrote.
The party’s chief spokesperson, Rep. Ahn Ho-young, said Moon told Lee the Democratic Party “must take the lead in reviving the economy and looking after South Korea’s struggling middle class.”
“Former President Moon said the party must help the country recover from the Halloween crowd crush disaster in Itaewon. Another important task was to build a lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula as the Korean War armistice agreement marks the 70th anniversary this year,” he said.
Moon has said in his New Year’s address that this winter was “made particularly cold by the ugliness that does not take responsibility for the pains of the Itaewon disaster.”
“Our economy is struggling, people’s livelihoods are threatned and the national security is at risk,” he said.
Lee, along with the rest of the Democratic Party leadership, opted to skip President Yoon’s New Year's event held on the same day.
At the supreme council meeting at the party bureau in Busan on Monday morning, Lee said he wasn’t aware he was ever invited.
Lee’s chief secretary, Rep. Cheon Jun-ho, clarified that the Democratic Party leader did receive an invitation from the presidential office for the the New Year’s event through an email on Dec. 22.
“There is no reason not to attend, but we had to decline due to a prior engagement,” he explained. Cheon added that he found how the presidential office handled the invitation to be “a bit perplexing.”
“It was just an email, not even a phone call,” he said.
Asked about the impending summons by prosecutors, Lee replied, “I’ve already said that I would answer the summons.”
“The incompetence of this administration, which fails to take responsibility for the pains of its people, is a sin,” he said on Yoon’s New Year’s address.