Seoul, Sep 27 (IANS) A Seoul court on Wednesday rejected an arrest warrant sought for South Korean opposition leader Lee Jae-myung over corruption charges, a decision that averted the biggest crisis yet for the former presidential candidate.
The Seoul Central District Court made the decision following a hearing attended by Lee, chair of the Democratic Party (DP), reports Yonhap News Agency.
It marked the first time the leader of South Korea’s main opposition party has attended an arrest warrant hearing.
“In comprehensive consideration of the degree to which the defendant’s right to defense is needed and the extent of concerns about the possible destruction of evidence, it is difficult to see the rationale and need for his arrest to the extent that the principle of investigation without detention should be ruled out,” a court judge said.
Soon after the court’s rejection, Lee expressed his appreciation to the judiciary for “manifestly proving that it is the last bastion of human rights”.
“Again, I am deeply grateful to the judiciary for solidly safeguarding the constitutional order of the Republic of Korea and for its wise judgement,” he told reporters as he walked out of a detention facility where he waited for the court’s decision.
The decision came days after Lee ended his hunger strike launched on August 31 in protest of what he called the “incompetent and violent” government of President Yoon Suk Yeol.
Lee has been accused of breach of trust, bribery and other charges stemming from his time as mayor of Seongnam, south of Seoul, years ago in connection with a scandal-ridden land development project and his alleged involvement in a company’s illegal cash remittance to North Korea.
The prosecution has accused him of committing breach of trust worth 20 billion won ($15 million) by giving special treatment to a private developer in the Baekhyeon-dong district apartment project in the city of Seongnam, south of Seoul, between 2014 and 2015, when he was serving as the city’s mayor.
The opposition is also suspected of asking Ssangbangwool Group, an underwear maker, to illegally transfer $8 million to North Korea between 2019 and 2020, when he was serving as Gyeonggi province governor, through his deputy to facilitate his visit to the North, and push for a joint smart farm project between his province and Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, he is already standing trial on two other separate cases, involving alleged election law violations during his run for the 2022 presidential election and corruption charges connected to another property development project launched during his term as Seongnam mayor, respectively.