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[Editorial] Time for self-restraint

Opposition must not misread denial of warrant, but fulfill duty and process bills

Oct. 4, 2023 - 05:30 By Korea Herald

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea is escalating its offense against the Yoon Suk Yeol administration after the court rejected an arrest warrant request for its leader, Lee Jae-myung. The party demanded an apology from Yoon and the dismissal of Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon.

Boosted by the denial of his arrest warrant, Lee proposed out of the blue that Yoon hold one-on-one talks with him to discuss the livelihoods of the public. Lee likely knew well that the president would almost certainly turn down the offer, considering the judicial procedures he has to go through. It is a political offense to put blame on Yoon for rejecting the offer and an attempt to dilute public opinion about his judicial risks.

Lee and the party are behaving as if the rejection of the warrant request proved his innocence. Denial of the arrest warrant has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. Furthermore, the court's logic for denying his arrest has been criticized for being contradictory.

At Lee's arrest warrant hearing, the judge found probable cause to believe he committed subornation of perjury. The prosecution suspects Lee of tampering with a witness in his favor when he was tried in 2019 on charges of giving false information during a TV debate of Gyeonggi Province governor candidates. During the debate, Lee claimed he had been falsely accused of making a news program producer impersonate a prosecutor. Lee was found guilty and fined in the prosecutor misrepresentation case.

Making others perjure themselves is a typical example of evidence destruction. The judgment that evidence on subornation of perjury is sufficient means Lee is likely to commit the same crime again.

But the judge ruled that "in view of human and material evidence (and) data secured so far, it is hard to believe concerns exist about further evidence destruction."

The judge also ruled: "Considering related documents Lee signed as the mayor of Seongnam and witness testimonies, there is considerable suspicion that he was implicated in alleged irregularities involving a project to develop Baekhyeon-dong in the city. But direct evidence is insufficient so his right to defense cannot be excluded."

There are testimonies to the effect that Lee attempted to cajole and pressure public officials of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, into saying as if they were threatened by the Land Ministry in connection with the Baekhyeon-dong development project. However, the judge did not regard this as probable cause for evidence destruction.

The judge said in the ruling that Lee's post -- leader of a political party -- subjects him to public scrutiny and criticism. This means it would be difficult for him to destroy evidence because he is watched by people.

However, the reality is the opposite. A high-ranking Democratic Party lawmaker who is one of Lee's close aides met with an associate of a former Gyeonggi Province vice governor who stands trial in detention on suspicions of pressuring a business group into giving cash illegally to North Korea for then-Gov. Lee's visit to the North. The lawmaker also talked over the telephone with the wife of the jailed former vice governor in an apparent bid to influence the ex-vice governor's court testimony.

All too often, a suspect or defendant is found guilty after an arrest warrant is denied. For Lee, the court's denial of an arrest warrant would be welcome news, but it is not right to behave as if he has been found innocent. In that respect, it is not sensible to demand an apology from the president and dismissal of the justice minister. The same is true of Lee's offer of one-on-one talks with the president.

The Democratic Party must not misread the court's reasons for denial of Lee's arrest warrant, but admit liability for causing disruption in parliamentary politics. The majority party suspended all of the bills, including ones related to public livelihoods, shortly after lawmakers voted to lift Lee's immunity to arrest. The party must do its duty of processing bills.

Lee has avoided arrest, but he has not yet been found innocent. He is still a suspect to be tried on various criminal allegations. It is proper for him and the party to restrain themselves.