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The death of a Korean marine became a threat to impeach the President

South Korean marines were deployed after monsoon rains flooded a rural area in the center of the country last July. They were searching for missing residents in waist-high flood waters but they were not wearing life jackets. They also don’t have floats or safety tubes.

As the ground gave way, five of them were swept away in the rushing brown water and one, Lance Cpl. Chae Su-geun disappeared downstream, called for help, and was later found dead.

Nearly a year later, the death of the 20-year-old Marine became an impeachment threat against South Korea’s leader, President Yoon Suk Yeol. And it has raised the risk of political instability in the country, a key US ally in creating a bulwark against North Korea And China.

The Korean army is no longer strange tragic accidentBut this latest episode has developed into the first major political crisis for Mr. Yoon since his party pathetic failure in last month’s parliamentary election. The career military officer who investigated Lance Corporal Chae’s death has accused the Ministry of National Defense of whitewashing the investigation and absolving military superiors of responsibility – all under pressure from Mr. Yoon.

Mr. Yoon did not directly address the allegation, and last week the president vetoed a bill introduced by the opposition in Congress calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations. The president wants government agencies such as police and prosecutors to complete their investigation of the various allegations before discussing further steps.

But there is broad public support for the appointment of a special prosecutor, survey shows, because many Koreans increasingly distrust Mr. Yoon and government prosecutors. Opponents of Mr. Yoon say that while prosecutors have brought up criminal investigation on his criticism and journalist accused of spreading “fake news”, they have not investigated the corruption allegations against his wife, Kim Keon Hee, with the same eagerness. (This and a series of other scandals contributed Mr. Yoon’s poor performance in last month’s election.)

The opposition has threatened to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr. Yoon if he continues to resist their demands.

“The Yoon regime should not forget the lessons of history,” said Lee Jae-myung, leader of the liberal opposition, referring to former presidents who have been jailed or impeached for corruption and abuse. power.

The opposition holds a larger majority in the newly elected National Assembly, which opened on Thursday. It plans to pass another special prosecution bill but it remains to be seen whether it has the votes to override the president’s veto or has enough public support and evidence to charge against the president. to Mr. Yoon to start impeachment proceedings against him or not.

Days after Corporal Chae’s death, an investigation conducted by the Korean Marine Corps concluded that he and his fellow Marines were not issued life jackets or safety tubes. The knee-high rubber boots they were issued hindered their movement in the water. The military has admitted to safety lapses.

The investigation also concluded that eight supervisors, including Maj. Gen. Im Seong-geun, commander of the 1st Marine Division, were responsible for Lance Corporal Chae’s death due to negligence. The then-Defense Minister, Lee Jong-sup, signed off on the investigation results to be forwarded to the national police for further investigation, as required by law. He gave the green light to investigators’ plans to brief the media.

“But in less than 24 hours, all decisions were reversed and everything became chaos,” said Colonel Park Jung-hun, the top investigator.

Mr. Lee ordered Colonel Park to cancel the press conference scheduled for the next day. The Ministry of National Defense withdrew the file that Colonel Park sent to the police. They later sent police a revised version that named only two of the original eight people, all lieutenant colonels, as being involved in Corporal Chae’s death.

Colonel Park said that the top Marine Corps commander told him that when Mr. Yoon learned of the colonel’s findings, he “got angry” and called Mr. Lee to express his anger. angry. (The commander denied making such a statement.) Col. Park said the president’s response was followed by pressure from the Defense Ministry to clear the names of top officers like Maj. Gen. Im as suspects criminal off your report.

Mr. Yoon has not yet directly addressed the allegations and his office declined to comment, pending an investigation by the police and the Corruption Investigation Office for Senior Officials. Mr. Lee denied being pressured by Mr. Yoon’s office. And analysts have struggled to explain why Mr. Yoon could have taken such an action.

But Colonel Park still maintained his accusations. The Ministry of National Defense referred him to a military court on charges of insubordination. Officials say he ignored orders to delay turning over investigation files to police. The colonel said that the file was forwarded to the police when he received the order. He said he was being persecuted for resisting pressure to remove the names of senior officials from his report.

During Colonel Park’s trial this month, Yoo Jae-eun, assistant to the defense minister, was called to testify. She said when she called the colonel under Mr. Lee’s instructions, she asked him not to name any criminal suspects or cite any suspected crimes in his report. She emphasized that this proposal was not intended to cause undue pressure but was “one of the options” for the colonel to consider.

Another Marine was caught in floodwaters and has been released from the hospital sued Major General Im for professional negligence. He claimed that his unit was ordered into dangerous waters to please the general, whose obsession with public opinion he said guided his unit’s disaster relief operations. Major General Im called the lawsuit “libel”.

Mr. Yoon expressed his condolences for the death of Lance Corporal Chae and criticized the marines’ activities in floodwaters, but he remained silent on accusations of illegal pressure. But South Koreans often view Mr. Yoon’s decisions as “mysterious,” Lee Jin-young, an editorial writer at the conservative Dong-A Ilbo daily, said in 2014. her column. When Mr. Yoon made “impulsive” decisions, she said, his employees lacked the courage to resist his “rage” and speak up.

“Instead, when the president hits the wrong target, they draw a bull’s eye around that target,” Ms. Lee wrote. “When this happened again, scandals erupted and his approval ratings dropped.”


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