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Prosecution take over brawling lawmakers’ case

Convictions would be dire for politicians running in elections
Sept 11,2019
The prosecution on Tuesday took over a police investigation into a violent brawl among 109 lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties at the National Assembly in April.

The Yeongdeungpo Police Precinct handed over the case to the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office on Tuesday, after months of preliminary investigation.

Violent scuffles took place at the end of April between lawmakers as the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) resisted the ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s legislative alliance to fast-track contentious bills on electoral reform and weakening the power of the prosecution.

The physical clashes were the first at the National Assembly since lawmakers revised the law governing the legislature in 2012 to end the brawls that were long a hallmark of Korean politics. Following the incident, the rival parties submitted petitions to the prosecution against one another, demanding probes. A total of 121 people, including 109 lawmakers, were asked to be investigated.

The police, under the command of the prosecution, started its investigation in May. Among the 109 lawmakers suspected to be involved in the physical fights, the police summoned 98 representatives - 59 from the LKP, 35 from the DP, three from the Justice Party and one from the Bareunmirae Party - for questioning.

While 33 DP and Justice Party lawmakers have cooperated with the police questioning so far, no LKP lawmakers have. They are calling the investigation an attempt to suppress the opposition party.

The LKP held a meeting of its leaders on Tuesday to address the latest development, as more than a half of its lawmakers could face criminal investigations.

“The case has now been sent to the prosecution,” Rep. Na Kyung-won, LKP floor leader, said. “I am at the center of all responsibilities. As the floor leader, I commanded everything at the time. The prosecution only needs to investigate me.”

She, however, said the prosecution must investigate the suspected procedural illegalities surrounding the fast-tracking of the bills before probing the scuffles. “National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang and others involved must be summoned first,” said Na. “After they are investigated, I will submit to the questioning.”

The LKP has long insisted that its members had to resort to violence because of procedural illegalities committed by Moon and other political leaders. It has asked the prosecution to investigate Moon and Rep. Kim Kwan-young, then floor leader of the Bareunmirae Party, for having abused their power by arranging an illicit legislative alliance between the DP and other opposition parties to fast-track the highly contentious bills. An electoral reform bill and bills to establish a new investigative body, redistribute investigative powers between the police and the prosecution and revise the Criminal Procedure Act were fast-tracked through the legislative alliance.

The prosecution’s investigation is seen as a crisis for the LKP. While most DP and Justice Party lawmakers are accused of using violence, the LKP lawmakers are facing heavier charges of obstructing a legislative activity. Under the National Assembly Act, the punishment for the latter are more severe.

Anyone who stops a lawmaker from entering a plenary session or a committee meeting and those who use force to interrupt a session are punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won ($8,620).

The law also says anyone punished with a fine over 5 million won for obstructing a legislative activity cannot run in an election for a minimum of five years - a tremendous setback for any politician, particularly ahead of next year’s general elections.

As the prosecution took over the investigation at a sensitive time, analysts in the legal community said fates of both the ruling and opposition parties are dependent upon Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. In addition to the probe into the violent scuffles at the National Assembly, the prosecution is also conducting an investigation into the scandal involving the family of Justice Minister Cho Kuk.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]