President Park Geun Hye Encourages Corruption Investigation

kpride, April 13, 2015, 9:38 a.m.


President Park Geun-hye ordered the prosecution Sunday to conduct a thorough investigation into a high-profile corruption scandal involving some of her close aides and key politicians.  Park said she hopes “the prosecution will strictly deal (with the allegations) without sanctuary, in accordance with the law and principles,” her spokesman Min Kyung-wook quoted her as saying in a written press briefing.

The South Korean political circle has been embroiled in a corruption scandal as Sung Wan-jong, the former head of a local builder, left behind a so-called “bribery list” before committing suicide last week.

Sung’s death came just hours before a local court was to issue an arrest warrant for him on various corruption charges in connection with lavish overseas energy projects pursued under the government of former President Lee Myung-bak.  Listed on the memo are the names of eight heavyweight politicians who are all close confidants of President Park, along with numbers indicating that money was delivered to them.

Park’s ruling party also called for a thorough and prompt investigation into the scandal, saying that priority should be placed on determining the truth.  “The first priority is to investigate the scandal in a thorough and swift manner in order to dispel the general public’s doubts,” Kim Moo-sung, chairman of the Saenuri Party, said in a hastily arranged press conference.  He said that the ruling party will spearhead efforts to ensure the probe is not swayed by outside pressure.

“Local prosecutors should first probe the case. I urge them to start a thorough and prompt investigation,” Kim said when asked about the need to introduce a special counsel to look into the case.  The politicians in question include Park’s two former chiefs of staff — Huh Tae-yeol and Kim Ki-choon — and her current chief of staff, Lee Byung-kee. Also on the list are Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo and Hong Moon-jong, a ruling party lawmaker who served as the president’s campaign manager in 2012.

Sung claimed that he gave some 200 million won (US$182,000) in cash to Hong, believing that the money would be used for Park’s election campaign, according to local daily Kyunghyang Shinmun’s interview with the businessman that was made right before the suicide.  The scandal is feared to deal another blow to Park, who managed to muddle through a leadership crisis following the recent controversial leak of sensitive presidential documents, analysts say.

Sung, a former lawmaker, was a major target of the ongoing probe into the country’s overseas resources development projects.  He is suspected of taking 80 billion won in government loans by exaggerating the amount of profit his company was expected to make on an investment in an oil exploration project in Russia. He allegedly used part of the funds to create slush funds.  “The corruption scandal should not hamper the current investigation into the overseas energy projects,” Kim added.

The head of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) urged those in question to resign from their posts and cooperate with the prosecutors’ probe.  “Those on the list should cooperate with the investigation,” said Moon Jae-in, head of the NPAD. “Prosecutors should also conduct a prompt probe into the case and disclose the truth without leaving any doubt.”  The NPAD also called for the chief of the ruling party to clarify the sources of Park’s 2012 presidential election campaign funds.

“For prosecutors’ thorough probe, Kim should first dispel the suspicion surrounding Park’s election funds,” said Rep. Jun Byung-hun from the opposition party. “If not, the ruling party’s move to resolve this scandal is just a political gambit.”  Depending on the progress of the prosecution probe, the NPAD could push to appoint an independent counsel to look into the case, he added.  The scandal also erupted ahead of a by-election slated for April 29 that could serve as a yardstick to gauge public confidence in the Park administration in the middle of its five-year term. A general election is slated for next year.

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