First lady-gate row continues

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First lady-gate row continues

The war of words over a graft accusation against the first lady intensified yesterday as the main opposition party stepped up its offensive toward the Blue House and the ruling Grand National Party.

At a party leadership meeting yesterday morning, Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu criticized President Lee Myung-bak for complaining about the constitutional privilege that guarantees lawmakers exemption from liability for what they say in the National Assembly.

During an assembly session Monday, DP Representative Kang Gi-jung alleged that first lady Kim Yoon-ok was linked to an influence-peddling scandal involving Nam Sang-tae, CEO of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Maritime Engineering. He said the first lady had received a “bunch” of checks in return for helping Nam to keep his job at the nation’s second largest shipbuilder.

President Lee reacted furiously, criticizing Kang for making irresponsible remarks for political purposes and abusing his immunity as a lawmaker. He urged the legislature to stop abusing the immunity privilege.

According to law, legislators are immune from arrest during their terms and can’t be sued for any statements made in the National Assembly.

“The president took issue with a lawmaker’s statement and said he would remove the immunity, which is guaranteed by the constitution,” Sohn said. “That’s intolerable in a democratic country.”

DP floor leader Park Jie-won also defended Kang and criticized Lee. “It is desirable for lawmakers to use precise expressions based on solid evidence so their immunity can be protected,” Park said. “Kang made his accusation based on enough evidence and reported to me about it. We have a significant amount of backup information, but we are refraining from making further accusations.”

“I am saying it again: we are being very careful about the issue involving the first lady,” Park said. “If the Blue House and the Grand National Party continue their criticism, that position may change.”

Park did not elaborate on what specific information he has. The Grand Nationals also stepped up their offensive, demanding Kang give up his lawmaker post. It has asked the assembly’s ethics committee to review his remarks.

“If Kang cannot prove his accusation, he must take responsibility and resign,” Ahn Sang-soo, GNP chairman, said during a party leadership meeting. “Kang’s crude expose is not worth mentioning, and his abuse of immunity to insult the first lady shows that he is not fit to serve as a lawmaker.”

Ahn also condemned the Democratic Party for encouraging attempts to “insult the president” with “lowbrow politics.”

GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung urged the Democratic Party and Kang to apologize.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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