The court stated that there were insufficient grounds to support the prosecutors’ claim that the opposition leader might attempt to destroy evidence.
The court in South Korea rejected an arrest warrant request made by prosecutors against Lee Jae-myung, the opposition leader and former presidential candidate, regarding corruption charges.
The Seoul Central District Court denied the prosecutors’ request to arrest the leader of the Democratic Party, explaining that there was no clear risk of Mr. Lee tampering with evidence.
“Considering the defendant’s right to defense and the concerns about potential evidence destruction, it is difficult to justify and necessitate his arrest to the extent that the principle of investigation without detention should be ruled out,” the court said.
“Once again, I am deeply grateful to the judiciary for solidly safeguarding the constitutional order of the Republic of Korea and for its wise judgment,” he told reporters.
This comes just days after Mr. Lee ended a 24-day hunger strike on Sept. 23, demanding that President Yoon Suk-yeol’s government rectify policy failures, including its failure to oppose Japan’s release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
He also accused Mr. Yoon of mishandling the country’s post-pandemic economy and exacerbating tensions with North Korea by expanding military drills and security cooperation with the United States and Japan.
The criminal charges against Mr. Lee remain. Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon stated that the review of the arrest warrant is part of an ongoing process and that the court’s decision does not imply his innocence.
Mr. Lee has been accused of breaching his duty while serving as Seongnam City’s mayor between 2014 and 2015, allegedly providing unlawful treatment to a private developer in a real estate project that resulted in approximately 20 billion won ($15 million) in losses.
The opposition leader is also accused of soliciting a company to illegally transfer $8 million to North Korea during his time as the governor of Gyeonggi Province between 2019 and 2020, with the intention of organizing a visit to the North.
Mr. Lee, who lost in South Korea’s presidential election to Mr. Yoon last year, has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the allegations as “fiction” and a “political conspiracy” against him.
Prior to last week’s parliamentary vote, Mr. Lee urged lawmakers to vote against the motion submitted by the government to strip him of his immunity, stating that his arrest would “give prosecutors’ manipulated investigation wings.”
According to the law, courts cannot hold hearings on requests for arrest warrants against lawmakers during National Assembly sessions unless the assembly allows it by a vote. The Democratic Party had previously blocked an attempt by prosecutors to arrest Mr. Lee in February.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.