Staff arrests spark DP budget boycott

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Staff arrests spark DP budget boycott

The main opposition Democratic Party angrily boycotted legislative sessions yesterday following the arrests of three its staffers, saying the arrests reminded them of the persecution of former President Roh Moo-hyun and accusing President Lee Myung-bak of Roh’s “political murder.”

On Tuesday evening, a staffer of Representative Kang Gi-jung and two staffers of Representative Choe Kyoo-sik were taken into custody by the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office as part of an influence-peddling probe.

Following the arrests, the Democrats held meetings Tuesday night and yesterday to plan their response. DP chairman Sohn Hak-kyu emotionally attacked the Lee administration and the prosecution.

“When Lee murdered former President Roh with the power of the prosecution, his hands became the dirtiest in the world,” Sohn said, referring to the prosecution’s probe into alleged graft among Roh’s family and his subsequent suicide in May 2009. “We should never forgive their nastiness.”

Prosecutors are investigating donations from a security guards association, the Cheongmok Club, to both ruling and opposition party lawmakers in exchange for lawmakers’ support for a bill that boosted security guards’ wages and delayed their retirement age.

The bill was passed in December and went into effect in July. According to prosecutors, the association donated a total of 270 million won ($236,000) in the names of more than 1,000 security guards or their families to 33 lawmakers.

Prosecutors were undaunted by the opposition’s fury.

“We needed to look into the allegations, but the Democrats refused to cooperate with the probe, so we obtained arrest warrants from a local court and exercised them,” a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Prosecution sources said yesterday that more arrests are to come if the Democrats continue their resistance. The prosecution reportedly obtained warrants to take several more people into custody, including an accountant at a DP lawmaker’s office.

To protest, Democrats decided yesterday to boycott all legislative sessions linked to deliberations of next year’s budget. Sohn also said that Democrats will disclose embarrassing facts in the “Daepo phones” scandal and resume their efforts to expose a graft scandal allegedly involving the first lady, Kim Yoon-ok.

The “Daepo phones” scandal involves an operation in the public ethics office of the Prime Minister’s Office in which civilians considered to be enemies of the administration were illegally spied on. Earlier in the month, the DP alleged that the operation was run by the Blue House and that it communicated with ethics office officials using phones registered under phony names. Daepo is Korean slang for a fake identity.

On Monday, four officials in the public ethics office were jailed for the illegal spying. The Democrats also claimed that the first lady had received bribes from a local CEO to help him keep his job at the nation’s second-largest shipbuilder. Representative Kang, whose staffer was arrested Tuesday, first made the accusation.

Sohn also said the Lee administration was trying to cover up its wrongdoings, corruption and tyranny by redirecting public attention to the security guards scandal. “

They want to humiliate lawmakers to neutralize the National Assembly,” Sohn said.

The Blue House tried to turn the tables on Sohn after he labeled Lee as Roh’s “political murderer.”

“In the past, it was often Sohn whose violent words cornered Roh into a deadly situation,” said a presidential aide. “I cannot believe Sohn is making such attacks on Lee.”

Sohn was a member of the ruling Grand National Party during Roh’s administration.

“We the Democrats agree that the prosecution’s investigation has the political motivation to cover up the administration’s illegal spying on civilians and to prevent lame duck status for Lee,” Jeon Hyun-heui, spokeswoman of the DP, said yesterday. “We are ready to die in this fight.”

While the Democrats were no-shows at all legislative sessions yesterday, DP Representative Lee Seok-hyun attended an afternoon meeting of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts to make more allegations against the Lee administration. Representative Lee claimed he had evidence that the Blue House and the public ethics office in 2008 also spied on senior politicians of both ruling and opposition parties and on Kim Sung-ho, who was head of the National Intelligence Service.

The prosecution said yesterday that its investigation had no political motivation and would continue. “We are moving forward with the investigation by the book,” said an official of the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office. “The court issued warrants, and that means we had enough grounds to arrest them. We believe the Democrats will cooperate with us from now on.”

The prosecution also said the public backs the probe. On Nov. 5, prosecutors raided offices of 11 lawmakers of both ruling and opposition parties who allegedly received money from the security guards association. “Since the raid, opinion polls showed that the majority of the public supports the prosecution’s move,” the official said.

Prosecutors said the Grand National Party and Liberty Forward Party were cooperating with the probe so there was no need to arrest anyone from the two conservative parties.

“We exercised the warrants only because the Democrats did not submit to our subpoenas,” he said. After questioning DP officials this week, the prosecution is to summon next week the 11 lawmakers whose offices were raided.


By Ser Myo-ja, Lee Han-gil [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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