Opposition leader Lee claims innocence in corruption probe

Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung on Saturday released a statement rejecting corruption allegations over a property development project after he appeared before prosecutors for questioning.

It was the second time in less than a month that Lee, chair of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), has appeared for questioning, after he underwent 12 hours of questioning in a separate corruption probe on Jan. 10.

Lee showed up at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office in southern Seoul at about 10:20 a.m. in connection with a corruption-laden property development project in the city of Seongnam, south of Seoul, which was pushed for when Lee was mayor.

The case centers on allegations that a private asset management company, Hwacheon Daeyu, was allowed to reap about 404 billion won (US$328.7 million) of profits from the development project in Daejang-dong in Seongnam thanks to dubious arrangements allegedly approved by then Mayor Lee.

Lee is suspected of breach of trust during the process.

In a statement submitted to prosecutors that was later posted on his Facebook page, Lee rejected allegations that he leaked insider information on the development project or approved the project in a way that was favorable to private developers.

Lee claimed that he instead shifted more costs to private developers and secured more profit for Seongnam City.

Before entering the prosecutors office, Lee said his statement will show how "absurd" their allegations are and what the "objective truth" is.

"This place is where the Yoon Suk Yeol dictatorship through the prosecution destroyed the rule of law and constitutional order," Lee told reporters before entering the office. "No matter how big and strong the power is, it cannot defeat the people."

During the 10-hour questioning, Lee refused to answer prosecutors' questions and referred to the 33-page statement he had submitted, according to sources with knowledge of the process.

Prosecutors are known to have requested a second questioning for additional investigation, but it is unlikely to happen as Lee earlier said he would only accept the first in-person session.

"I think prosecutors under the Yoon Suk Yeol administration are not investigating but doing politics," Lee told reporters after the session. "I cannot but think that (prosecutors) are fabricating the case to just indict me, not to uncover the truth."

Lee is also suspected of involvement in the alleged wrongdoing by Jeong Jin-sang, a longtime close confidant of his. Jeong was indicted for allegedly providing partners affiliated with the company with business favors in exchange for their promise to give him dozens of billions of won in kickbacks.

Jeong was also suspected of taking election funds from them.

On Jan. 10, Lee underwent 12 hours of questioning as part of a separate investigation into allegations that the Seongnam city government attracted 17 billion won in corporate donations to its municipal football club in return for administrative favors between 2016 and 2018 while he was the mayor.

Lee has vehemently refuted all allegations and claimed his innocence, accusing the prosecution of fabricating charges against him and abusing its power for a politically motivated probe of a former presidential election rival of President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Prosecutors were reportedly considering combining the two separate cases involving Lee to file for an arrest warrant for him following the second round of questioning.

Even if prosecutors seek an arrest warrant for him, Lee is expected to avoid arrest because, by law, prosecutors need parliamentary consent to arrest a lawmaker while the assembly is in session, and the National Assembly, where the DP has a majority, is expected to refuse to consent to Lee's arrest.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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