Reps spend day evading arrestFive lawmakers wanted on corruption or election law violation charges played cat-and-mouse with the criminal justice system yesterday, playing for time until a “bulletproof” session of the legislature began at midnight last night, giving them immunity from arrest.
It was not known at press time last night, 8:30 p.m., whether any were actually arrested on the charges drawn up this week and earlier in August by prosecutors. If they managed to evade arrest until midnight, they can probably stay at large through the end of this year considering the legislative schedule over the next few months.
Korea’s lawmakers are exempt from arrest and imprisonment without the consent of the Assembly while any session is under way, a privilege designed to guarantee the independent activities of lawmakers from pressure from a sitting government. The nickname for this immunity is being “bulletproof.”
An extra session of the National Assembly ended at the close of Tuesday Aug. 19 and the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) pushed through a motion at the last minute for another extraordinary session to begin at midnight, the start of today. That gave the lawmakers two days, Wednesday and Thursday, to evade arrest.
Arrest warrants for four lawmakers - the NPAD’s Shin Geh-ryoon, 60, Kim Jae-yun, 49, and Shin Hak-yong, 62, and the Saenuri Party’s Park Sang-eun, 65 - were filed with the courts Wednesday and in the case of Saenuri’s Cho Hyun-yong, 69, on Aug. 7.
All five were ordered to report yesterday morning to the Seoul Central District Court or Incheon District Court for arrest warrant reviews, in which the court questions the accused and decides whether to issue the warrants. None showed. The NPAD representatives sent messages to the Seoul Central District Court in the morning asking for a postponement of the reviews, claiming they needed “some time to defend themselves.”
All three are charged with receiving up to 70 million won ($67,980) from Kim Min-sung, who runs Seoul Art College, a vocational school for aspiring entertainers.
Saenuri lawmakers Cho and Park just disappeared for hours.
Cho, former president of the Korea Rail Network Authority, is charged with allegedly pocketing more than 100 million won from Sampyo E&C. He turned off his mobile phone as well as another under a borrowed name he has been using recently and was nowhere to be found until after 3 p.m.
Park, who allegedly took illicit funds from candidates who attempted to run in the June 4 local elections or from regional CEOs in the construction industry in Incheon, did not return home Wednesday night and gave his mobile phone to one of his aides to avoid tracking by the prosecution.
But early yesterday, the prosecution took the extreme measure of sending up to four investigators to each of the five lawmakers’ offices at the National Assembly building in Yeouido, western Seoul, to find them and haul them into court. The prosecution even checked the closed-circuit TVs installed throughout the Assembly building.
Angered by his lawmakers’ behavior, Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung went so far as to tell the press that while they were on the run he had “no intention to protect them.”
Eventually all five representatives made their ways to the courts, Park to the Incheon District Court and the remaining four to the Seoul Central District Court. But their sessions did not begin until the afternoon, and it normally takes many hours for the court to reach a conclusion for an arrest warrant. Kim Jae-yun was questioned at the Seoul Central District Court at 2 p.m., Shin Hak-yong at 4 p.m. and Shin Geh-ryoon at 6 p.m. by chief judge Yoon Gang-yeol. They all denied their charges to reporters before meeting with the judge.
Park Sang-eun underwent questioning at 5:30 p.m. at Incheon District Court and Cho Hyun-yong at 8 p.m. at Seoul Central District Court.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]