|President Moon Jae-in speaks at a Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
President Moon Jae-in has found himself embroiled in controversy over allegedly giving "investigation guidelines" regarding a snowballing corruption scandal linked to the ruling party's presidential candidate.
On Tuesday, Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee told reporters Moon had instructed the prosecution and the police to "actively cooperate and do their utmost to uncover the factual truth through a swift and thorough investigation" into the lucrative, possibly illicit land development project in the Daejang region of the city of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.
However, his instruction comes while the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) has been calling for a special counsel probe into the case, so it is seen as the President's rejection of the call and thus has been drawing a strong reaction from the opposition.
Currently, Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung, who was named the ruling Democratic Party of Korea's (DPK) presidential candidate, Sunday, has been under attack for his alleged involvement in the land development project when he was Seongnam mayor in 2015.
In the wake of Moon's order, the PPP denounced the President's setting a limit on investigations into the scandal.
"His call for a thorough probe by the prosecution and police means a public declaration of rejecting a special counsel probe into the land project," PPP floor leader Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon said in a briefing.
According to the law on a special counsel's appointment, the president has the right to veto a bill that the National Assembly passes to launch an investigation by a counsel into a specific case.
"Despite strong public sentiment in favor of a special counsel investigation, Moon is protecting the ruling party's presidential candidate, a key man of one of the nation's worst corruption scandals."
Criticizing the sluggishness of current investigations by the prosecution and police, Kim also claimed that Cheong Wa Dae was pulling the strings.
"The President's remarks have made the launch of a special counsel all the more necessary," he added.
|Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, the floor leader of the main opposition People Power Party, speaks during a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul, Tuesday. Yonhap|
In response, Rep. Ko Min-jung of the DPK who had previously been a presidential spokesperson, said in a radio interview, Wednesday, that she understood that Moon drew the line at the request of a special counsel probe to avoid political strife in the lead-up to the presidential election, scheduled for March 9, 2022.
"The PPP's call for launching a special counsel probe or a parliamentary investigation is equivalent to politically taking issue with the case ahead of the presidential election," she said.
Moon's directive is also seen as his decision to pre-emptively rule out a possible challenge to his party during the election period.
"Uncertainties regarding Lee would give room to the opposition bloc to keep attacking the DPK candidate over the scandal during the campaign period. The Moon message was focused on clearing all suspicions as soon as possible, wrapping up the mudslinging and thus getting the presidential election situation back on track," a ruling party official said.
A political analyst said that Moon's instructions to the prosecution and police suggest he believes Lee was not involved in any illegal speculation.
The presidential office has stated that it is working to arrange a meeting between Moon and Lee.