South Korea’s ambassador to Australia says he’s cooperating with graft probe

By Thomson Reuters Mar 20, 2024 | 10:55 PM

(Refiles to remove extra word “face” from headline)

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s ambassador to Australia said on Thursday he was willing to be questioned by the anti-corruption agency over allegations he tried to manipulate a probe into the death of a marine last year when he was defence minister.

Lee Jong-sup, who was recently appointed to head the embassy in Canberra, flew back to Seoul on Thursday for what he said were official meetings. He has denied any wrong doing or that he was trying to dodge the investigation.

He told reporters he would try and schedule a meeting with the anti-corruption agency during the trip.

“I hope to be able to coordinate a schedule with the Corruption Investigation Office so that there is a chance to attend questioning during my stay,” Lee said at Incheon airport.

Some members of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s own political party, and lawmakers from the opposition, have criticised Lee’s appointment, saying he should not have been allowed to leave for Australia on March 10 while he was under investigation.

The criticism precedes parliamentary elections next month, where polls show that Yoon’s People’s Power Party is in a close race against the liberal opposition Democratic Party.

Yoon’s office has said Lee’s appointment and his departure to Canberra were entirely lawful, and noted that Lee has promised to return and cooperate fully with the probe.

The anti-corruption agency is investigating Lee over allegations he was behind a government attempt to interfere with a probe into the death of a marine who was involved in a search and rescue operation during floods last year.

(This story has been refiled to remove an extraneous word from the headline)

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Ed Davies and Miral Fahmy)