South Korea’s ambassador to Australia steps down amid investigation controversy

By Thomson Reuters Mar 29, 2024 | 12:09 AM

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s ambassador to Australia resigned on Friday as questions about his appointment while he is under a corruption probe battered President Yoon Suk Yeol’s ruling party less than two weeks from a closely fought parliamentary election.

Lee Jong-sup, who was appointed ambassador to Australia just four weeks ago, is being investigated over allegations he tried to improperly influence a probe into the death of a marine last year while he was defence minister.

“His resignation was reported to the president and it has been decided it will be accepted,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Reuters could not immediately contact Lee for comment.

Lee has previously denied any wrongdoing and said he was willing to cooperate fully with the investigation.

Criticism of Lee’s appointment grew sharply when he flew to Canberra on March 10, which opposition party members decried as an attempt to evade questioning in the case.

Some members of Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) have also said he was the wrong choice for an ambassador and it was a mistake for him to leave.

Lee returned to Seoul last week for what he said were official meetings and said he hoped to have the chance to answer questions by the national corruption agency handling the case.

But the outcry over his appointment and his hasty departure did not end and some PPP members said he was a political burden for the party as it tries to win back control of parliament at the April 10 elections.

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.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)