South Korea prosecutors indict opposition leader Lee Jae-myung in $8M North Korea bribery scheme News
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South Korea prosecutors indict opposition leader Lee Jae-myung in $8M North Korea bribery scheme

South Korean prosecutors indicted Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung on Wednesday on bribery charges for allegedly facilitating a scheme with Ssangbangwool Group to illegally transfer US$8 million to North Korea, according to reports from local media.

These transactions were purportedly to secure government support and guarantee for Ssangbangwool’s business ventures in North Korea and facilitate his planned visit to Pyongyang when Lee was serving as governor of Gyeonggi Province. Ssangbangwool Group is South Korea’s largest underwear company, which has expanded into various other businesses.

The prosecution accused Lee of engaging in third-party bribery and violating both the Foreign Exchange Transactions Act (FETA) and the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act (IECA). They argued that Lee violated the FETA by facilitating unauthorized payments to North Korea. Additionally, Lee is accused of breaching the IECA by carrying out unauthorized economic projects with North Korea, including the planning of a visit to North Korea without the approval of the South Korean Minister of Unification.

Lee denied the charges, asserting that the $8 million transferred by Ssangbangwool to North Korea was a separate action by the company to pursue business opportunities in North Korea, not connected to the Gyeonggi government.

The Democratic Party (DP) also criticized the timing of the charges as politically motivated, aimed at undermining the opposition amid declining approval ratings for the current administration. In their statement, the DP argued that these charges serve as “a pillar for turning the situation around by rejecting the incompetence and refusal of the Yoon Seok-yeol government, whose approval ratings are hesitating day by day.” The DP further stated that the charges were “unfair”, calling it a “manipulated investigation by the prosecution.”

Following the indictment, Lee commented on the charges, remarking that “the prosecution’s level of creativity is dwindling. Our citizens will see the absurdity of this case upon close examination.” Lee urged the Yoon Seok-yeol government, “if you possess such power, use it to take care of the difficult lives of our people and to bolster the nation’s security and economy.”

With this new indictment, Lee is now involved in his fourth court trial. This is in addition to the three ongoing trials he faces at the Seoul Central District Court, which involve allegations of development project-related bribery, election law violations, and perjury.