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South Korean Opposition Leader Indicted in Bribery Scandal Involving North Korea Funds

Lee Jae-myung has consistently denied any involvement in or knowledge of the scheme, which dates back to 2019 and 2020.

Elite Politics
Lee Jae-myung - Photo: Wikipedia

South Korea's main opposition leader, Lee Jae-myung, was indicted on Wednesday over allegations of bribery.

Prosecutors accuse him of orchestrating a scheme to funnel funds to North Korea using an underwear company as a cover, aiming to facilitate a visit to Pyongyang during his tenure as a provincial governor.

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 The scandal centers on the Democratic Party leader's time as the governor of Gyeonggi province. His former deputy has already been convicted of bribery and illegal fund transfers in a conspiracy with Ssangbangwool Group, which allegedly sent $8 million to North Korea.

 Ssangbangwool, originally an underwear manufacturer, had diversified into various other businesses over time.

Lee Jae-myung has consistently denied any involvement in or knowledge of the scheme, which dates back to 2019 and 2020. The alleged plan was to promote a commercial project with North Korea and arrange a visit to Pyongyang, potentially boosting Lee's political stature.

Scandal is “Fiction”

"I am not that foolish," Lee stated last year, dismissing the charges as "fiction" after a court refused to issue an arrest warrant. Following his indictment on Wednesday, he remarked, "The prosecutors' creativity is getting worse."

Lee, who narrowly lost the 2022 presidential election to Yoon Suk Yeol, a former prosecutor, is a prominent contender for the next election in 2027. He also faces a separate trial on corruption charges linked to his term as a mayor near Seoul.

This scandal echoes the first summit between North and South Korea in 2000, which was marred by revelations of secret funds transferred to Pyongyang through the Hyundai Group, securing them exclusive business rights in the North.