South Korean lawmakers pave Way for opposition leader’s arrest


In a surprise outcome, South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament on Thursday voted to pass a motion submitted by the government that allows for the potential arrest of the country’s leading opposition figure, Lee Jae-myung, who faces a widening investigation over corruption allegations.
Lawmakers voted 149-136 in favour of lifting Lee’s immunity to arrest, which allows the Seoul Central District Court to set up a hearing on prosecutors’ request for an arrest warrant for Lee, who has been the chairperson of the Democratic Party since August last year.
It was not immediately clear when the hearing would take place or how likely it would be that the court would grant an arrest warrant for Lee after he was hospitalised on Monday while continuing a weeks long hunger strike in protest of conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol’s domestic and foreign policies.
Lee, a liberal who previously said he was willing to give up his immunity against arrest because he was confident about proving his innocence, pleaded with lawmakers to vote against the motion on Wednesday, saying in a Facebook message that his potential arrest would “attach wings to prosecutors’ manipulated investigation.”
Lee, who narrowly lost to Yoon in the presidential election in March last year, is being investigated by prosecutors over various criminal allegations. They include allegations that he provided unlawful favours to a private investor that reaped huge profits from a dubious real estate project in the city of Seongnam, where he had a decade-long run as mayor until 2018. Prosecutors also believe that Lee pressured a local businessman into sending millions of dollars in illegal payments to North Korea as he tried to set up a visit to that country that never materialized.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, some reformist members of Lee’s party had called for him to stay true to his words and publicly endorse the motion seeking his arrest.