Court issues warrant for Korean lawmaker’s arrest

Suwon District Court on Thursday issued a warrant for lawmaker Rep. Lee Seok-ki's arrest for alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Following the arrest, the National Intelligence Service will be questioning the Unified Progressive Party lawmaker over the next 10 days. Once their investigation is completed, Lee will be handed over to the prosecution which will then have up to 20 days for investigation before deciding on indictment.

This is the first time for an incumbent lawmaker to be detained on charges of conspiring to revolt.

Lee is currently accused of forming an underground group known as the "Revolutionary Organisation" and devising plans to destroy key infrastructure in the South in the event of an inter-Korean war. Lee allegedly made the plans in concert with some 130 members in a May 12 meeting. He is also suspected of violating the National Security Act by praising or making comments in support of North Korea during meetings in March and August last year.

Just hours after the National Assembly on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to approve the prosecutors' request for Lee's arrest, the NIS seized him at his office after hours of scuffle with his supporters in an unusually speedy manner, citing risk of flight. Lee appeared before the court the next morning for the review of his arrest.

Some 300 members and supporters of the UPP gathered in front of Suwon District Court since early Thursday protesting the NIS' probe and labeling it political oppression. The party's chairwoman Lee Jung-hee, who is a former lawyer, also joined the 20-member legal team for Lee.

The NIS has so far completed a search and seizure at 18 offices and homes, detained three UPP members and plans to summon six other left-leaning activists to question the activities of RO and its possible connection with North Korea.

They believe the transcript of the recorded remarks by Lee during the May meeting will serve as decisive evidence, which Lee and the UPP claim has been fabricated.

To indict Lee, the authorities must prove that the involved parties discussed detailed plans such as funding and roles for the purpose of overthrowing the government and the Constitution.

The NIS is currently looking into the bank accounts and financial transactions of Lee to find any connection with North Korea.

Meanwhile, rival parties failed to normalize the parliamentary session as they continued to lock horns over the political implications of the probe on Lee.

They had been on a brief truce for the one-item plenary session to vote on the motion for the arrest of Lee.

Well after the vote was completed, the Saenuri Party and the DP continued to blame each other for who was responsible for the 31 votes out of the 289 total ballots that disapproved, abstained or were counted as invalid.

The Saenuri Party also called on the DP to stop its demands for President Park Geun-hye to apologise over the NIS' alleged political interference in last year's presidential election and return to the Assembly. The party also continued to criticise the DP for having aligned with the UPP in last year's general elections that they said paved the way for Lee to enter the Assembly as a proportional representation member. The ruling Saenuri Party is reportedly moving to submit a request with the Assembly's Ethics Committee to strip Lee of his lawmaker status.

"The opposition party's negotiating partner is the ruling party, not the president or Cheong Wa Dae," said Saenuri floor leader Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan.

The DP, for its part, said its consensus on investigating Lee was separate from its calls for NIS reform to curb its interference in domestic politics, and vowed its outdoor rally could continue unless Park acknowledged the main opposition party as a dialogue partner.

"(The president) must give the opposition party the respect as the partner to run the state," said DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun. The DP's senior deputy floor leader Jung Sung-ho agreed and said, "We told the (ruling party) we cannot agree to the schedule as of present. The president must solve this in a big picture manner."

The DP instead decided to selectively attend standing committee meetings relevant to the controversial issues including the controversial passing of a right-leaning history textbook, NIS reform, an audit of the former government's four-river restoration project and corruption scandals surrounding nuclear power plants.

Park, currently visiting Russia to attend the G20 summit, has shunned the DP's proposal to talk one-on-one and instead suggested a wider five-member meeting to discuss pending bills for the public's livelihoods.

By Lee Joo-hee (jhl@heraldcorp.com)