01/19/2023, 14.56
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Seoul, high profile arrest for corruption calls out opposition leader

by Guido Alberto Casanova

Businessman Kim Seong-tae - extradited from Thailand - is accused of having done business in North Korea during the thaw period, under the cover of the local authorities of Gyeonggi province. The governor at the time was the current Democrats leader, Lee Jae-myung, who responds: judicial investigation for political purposes.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The former South Korean underwear tycoon Kim Seong-tae - until 2021 head of the Ssangbangwool group - was returned to South Korea this week after being arrested a few days ago in Thailand.

He had taken refuge there last year to escape the ongoing investigations into him in Seoul, which see him implicated in multiple corruption cases. Including at the highest level, such as the one on alleged funds transferred to North Korea and the payment of legal fees incurred by opposition leader Lee Jae-myung.

On Tuesday, Kim was immediately taken to the Suwon Judiciary Office, which is handling the investigation into the leader of the Democrats. Although the former executive claimed he did not know Lee Jae-myung at all, some witnesses reported otherwise.

Another former Ssangbangwool executive reportedly confirmed to the Yonhap news agency that Kim and Lee had a close relationship. Moreover, during a hearing in Suwon, Lee's own former secretary general confirmed the existence of this relationship.

According to the investigators in 2018, Ssangbangwool, then under Kim's leadership, allegedly paid a fee of about USD 241,000 to the lawyer who was defending Lee at the time in a trial over the Democratic politician's alleged violations of election regulations.

Linked to these allegations are those of corruption of some senior officials in Gyeonggi province, the country's most populous. In 2019, as international tensions melted away on the Korean peninsula, Kim had obtained the necessary permit from the province to start mining activities in North Korea and the suspicion is that Kim bribed Gyeonggi officials to obtain favourable treatment: the deputy governor at the time was arrested last September on this charge.

The central fact is that at that time, between 2018 and 2021, the governor of Gyeonggi was Lee Jae-myung himself. For this reason, determining the existence (and possibly the nature) of a personal relationship between Lee and Kim is a central point of the ongoing investigation, which would then link the opposition leader to a very extensive bribery scheme.

Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that the affair between Ssangbangwool and Lee is part of a much broader picture in which the opposition leader is accused of being at the centre of a vast network of illicit relations with the business world.

Two other judgments are pending on his head over alleged corruption incidents dating back to his time as mayor of Seongnam, one of the most important cities in Gyeonggi. Lee was heard by the judiciary last week and is due to appear in court again towards the end of the month.

For his part, the leader of the Democrats thunders against the impeachment of the opposition leader, a fact unknown since the end of the dictatorship in the country, and declares himself the victim of a judicial process designed for political purposes.

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