Prosecution opens probe into bribery list [2015/04/23 09:26]

The prosecution Sunday launched an investigation into a high-profile scandal, in which recently-deceased businessman Sung Woan-jong claimed he had given kickbacks to ruling Saenuri party members and close confidants of President Park Geun-hye.

Prosecutor General Kim Jin-tae convened an emergency meeting at the Supreme Prosecutors‘ Office to discuss how to probe the claims and whether to launch a separate investigation team for the case.

The late businessman Sung had been under the prosecution‘s investigation over his involvement in a corruption scandal related to a resources development project by the previous Lee Myung-bak administration. The move came shortly after Saenuri Party chairman Kim Moo-sung urged a “swift and thorough” investigation into Sung`s memo implicating Park`s closest aides in the bribery scandals.

“The ideal thing right now is for the prosecutors to conduct a swift investigation into the matter to discover the truth, and they should leave no stones unturned,” Kim said in an emergency press conference held at the party headquarters. “We have no slightest intention to protect those (accused) from the probe.”

Sung, the former head of Keangnam Enterprises, was found dead Thursday in an apparent suicide, just hours before local court was to issue an arrest warrant for embezzlement and alleged involvement in the failed energy project.

He was carrying a memo that had the names of eight political heavyweights, including Park`s former chiefs of staff Kim Ki-choon and Huh Tae-yeol, along with the incumbent prime minister and Saenuri lawmaker Lee Wan-koo.

On Friday, the local daily KyunghyangShinmun revealed a recording of Sung`s interview which claimed that he handed $100,000 and 700 million won ($639,970) to Kim and Huh, respectively, in keeping with the content of the memo. Later in the day, the daily disclosed another recording of Sung saying he handed Rep. Hong Moon-jong of Saenuri, who managed President Park`s election campaign, 200 million won to be used during the campaign.

"The memo written by the deceased is casting doubts upon entire political circles, hindering the entire government affairs," said Saenuri chief Kim. “Any attempts to cover up irregularities can only spark further suspicion. Saenuri will make sure no outside influence will sway the prosecution`s investigation.”

He said he did not discuss content of the press conference with the president, explaining such consultation would be inappropriate since her aides` names are included in what has been dubbed the “Sung Woan-jong” list.

Kim also revealed that Sung called him just days before his death to plead innocence. But the ruling party leader -- whose name was not included in Sung`s list -- also implied that he did not have Sung`s phone number, in an apparent attempt to draw a line with the businessman who was a Saenuri lawmaker until 2014.

All eight politicians whose names were on Sung`s list had claimed they did not have a close relationship with the deceased and denied ever receiving money. Rep. Hong held a press conference Saturday and vowed to retire from politics if he “had even received a penny” from Sung.

Despite the ruling party feverishly attempting put a distance between Sung and themselves, the revelation is likely to affect the upcoming by-election slated for April 29. Kim himself admitted that there is “no question” that the incident spells bad news for Saenuri.

Although both the ruling and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said they will not alter their overall election strategies, observers have pointed out it is likely for the NPAD to bring up the bribery scandal at some point.

NPAD leader Moon Jae-in said Saturday that the “Sung Woan-jong list” has brought forth a new meaning to the upcoming election. He urged support for his party, which he claimed will “motivate the prosecutors to conduct a more thorough investigation on the case.”

The bribery scandal is expected to be high on the agenda of the four-day interpellation session that will open in the National Assembly tomorrow, along with government-proposed pension reform, possible deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, and salvaging the sunken ferry Sewol.
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