by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo of South Korea formally resigned on Monday amid growing suspicions that he accepted an illegal cash donation from a businessman, reports the New York Times.
Lee offered to step down from his position last week, just two months after taking South Korean government’s No. 2 post. He is the second prime minister to resign under President Park’s rule. His predecessor, Chung Hong-won, had resigned after the Sewol ferry disaster.
“I have a heavy heart for leaving many things to be done to you and not completing the mission given to me,” Lee said in a brief farewell speech.
The prime minister has been at the center of a bribery scandal involving a the late construction tycoon Sung Wan-jong and eight high-profile political figures, mostly close associates of Park. Before committing suicide earlier this month, Sung, who was facing arrest on corruption charges, told a local newspaper that he gave 30 million won ($27,390) to Lee when he was running for a parliamentary seat in 2013.
Police also found a handwritten note inside Sung’s pocket that listed names of several government officials, including Lee, alongside numbers that allegedly indicate bribery sums.
Lee strongly denied bribery allegations, but the ruling Saenuri party pressured him to resign. According to Yonhap News Agency, the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, also threatened to impeach the prime minister over the scandal.
President Park accepted Lee’s resignation on Monday after returning from her South American tour. However, she has yet to announce Lee’s replacement.
The bribery scandal is a huge blow to Park’s government, which is still struggling to recover from public criticism of its poor handling of last April’s ferry disaster, which killed more than 300 people, mostly high school students.
Last week, thousands of demonstrators marched the streets of Seoul, protesting the government’s failures during the Sewol ferry tragedy. Riot police deployed water cannon and pepper spray to break up the crowds.
This past weekend, thousands of unionized workers rallied in cities nationwide to protest against President Park’s labor policies and plans to reform the pension system.
Featured image by Reuters/Kim Hong-ji