Prosecutors searched an office in Gyeonggi Province on Monday as part of a criminal investigation surrounding the province's former governor and the current chairperson of the Democratic Party of Korea, Rep. Lee Jae-myung.
The main opposition chief’s spouse, Kim Hye-kyung, and at least one of his close aides are accused of having misappropriated the province’s public funds while he was serving as governor.
Prosecutors in Suwon in Gyeonggi Province said they seized records of payments made with the provincial office’s cards, designated for expenses related to public duties, as well as other records related to official expenditure.
The search is a part of the investigation prompted by a whistleblower, a former Gyeonggi Province official, who was first to raise accusations in December 2021 that then-governor Lee and his spouse were appropriating public funds for personal use. The ex-Gyeonggi official was recognized as a public interest whistleblower by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission in March 2022.
The whistleblower made the accusations that, as governor, Lee “abused his position of authority as the head of the provincial office to knowingly allow a member of his family to embezzle funds that were meant for public use only.”
The government’s Anti-Corruption Commission, after receiving the whistleblower report, sent the case to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, which then referred it to prosecutors in Suwon, where the Gyeonggi Province office is located.
One of Lee’s close aides to be investigated in the misappropriation case was given a suspended prison term in a first trial held in August.
The search comes as the Democratic Party chief is already enmeshed in several court battles concerning corruption scandals from the time he was the Gyeonggi Province governor and mayor of Seongnam, one of the more affluent parts of the province encircling Seoul.
Most notably, Lee is a defendant in a case where he is accused of letting his aides benefit from a public land development project he led as the two-time mayor of Seongnam from 2010 to 2018.
In the National Assembly, fellow Democratic Party lawmakers have raised concerns about Lee continuing to lead the party while he is obligated to appear in court almost every week, sometimes more than once a week, as the general election approaches.
After the Democratic Party-controlled Assembly voted to approve the court’s request to review an arrest warrant against Lee in September, Lee shuffled the party’s leadership to fill the posts with lawmakers close to him, namely those who position themselves within the “pro-Lee faction" of the party.