South Korean opposition leader indicted for alleged corruption

Leader of left-leaning Democratic Party faces charges including bribery, breach of duty and conflict of interest.

South Korean opposition leader Lee Jae-myung has denied corruption claims against him [File: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

South Korea’s opposition leader Lee Jae-myung has been indicted on corruption charges related to real estate developments and a football club he oversaw during a stint as a city mayor.

Lee, the leader of the left-leaning Democratic Party, faces charges including bribery, breach of duty, conflict of interest and concealment of criminal proceeds stemming from his time as mayor of Seongnam, South Korea’s state-funded Yonhap News Agency reported on Wednesday.

Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office announced the charges following an 18-month investigation into a 1.5 trillion won ($1.15bn) construction project in Seongnam, located about 20km south of Seoul.

Prosecutors allege that Lee, who served as mayor of Seongnam from 2010-2018, colluded with real estate developers when he was mayor to help them pocket 800 billion won ($611.5m), inflicting losses of nearly 490 million won on the city.

Lee is also accused of soliciting bribes from a number of companies to fund the city’s struggling football club in exchange for preferential government treatment.

Lee, who lost last year’s presidential election to chief prosecutor-turned-politician Yoon Suk-yeol, has denied wrongdoing and cast himself as the victim of a political vendetta orchestrated by the conservative government.

Lee told a Democratic Party meeting on Wednesday that his indictment was “not surprising at all”.

“As I have repeated many times, the indictment had already been determined,” Lee said, according to Yonhap.

Prosecutors last month failed in a bid to arrest Lee after the National Assembly, where the Democratic Party holds a commanding majority, narrowly voted against stripping him of his immunity from arrest as a sitting politician.

While Lee only lost to Yoon by a razor margin in last year’s presidential poll, the allegations against him have dented his popularity.

In a poll commissioned by the state broadcaster KBS earlier this month, nearly 54 percent of respondents said Lee should resign, while 52 percent said parliament had been wrong to deny a warrant for his arrest.

Nearly 54 percent of those asked said the claims against Lee deserved to be investigated, while nearly 41 said they believed the probe was political retribution.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies