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Opposition leader planned solo trip to North Korea: prosecutors

March 31, 2023 - 15:00 By Kim Arin
Democratic Party of Korea chairperson Rep. Lee Jae-myung arrives at the Seoul central district court on Friday. (Yonhap)

Seoul prosecutors believe onetime presidential hopeful and Democratic Party of Korea head Rep. Lee Jae-myung planned a solo trip to North Korea while he was still the governor of Gyeonggi Province, which neighbors Seoul.

According to the indictment the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office submitted to the National Assembly on Thursday, after then-Gyeonggi Gov. Lee was excluded from the 2018 inter-Korea summit, the provincial office planned for him to travel to North Korea separately.

The prosecutors found that Lee’s chief aide at the time, who was in charge of the province’s “peace initiatives,” paid a broker some 300 million won ($231,000) in subsidies from the Gyeonggi provincial office and 200 million won more in the form of donation.

Lee’s ex-chief aide also offered North Korean authorities at least $500 million in exchange for pursuing exchange projects with Gyeonggi. One of the proposed projects included the province providing farming technologies to North Korea.

But as a result of the United Nations-imposed sanctions, Gyeonggi was unable to offer the money, and the chief aide sought to deliver the promised money through illicit routes between November-December 2018.

From 2019 to 2020, the ex-chief met with high-level North Korean officials including Kim Sung Hye, a senior official at the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, in China and the Philippines and paid them a total of $800 million.

Prosecutors saw that this would amount to a violation of the laws on foreign exchange sanctions and the Finance Ministry provisions, which dictate that any South Korean money provided to North Korean authorities must obtain prior authorization of the Bank of Korea.

Commenting on Lee’s suspected interaction with North Korea at the National Assembly last month, Minister of Justice Han Dong-hoon had said “any unauthorized contact with North Korea is a clear violation of the law.”

Separately, the Democratic Party head is currently facing trials for violating election laws in the 2022 presidential election race and for other corruption charges dating back to his time as the mayor of Seongnam, a city in Gyeonggi Province.