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Ex-prime minister indicted in growing $50,000 bribe case

Democrats complain prosecutors go easy on GNP while hitting Han hard

Dec 23,2009
Former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook was indicted yesterday on charges of receiving bribes from a local businessman while she was in office. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it filed the indictment without physically detaining Han. She has been accused of receiving $50,000 in 2006 from Kwak Young-wook, former CEO of Korea Express, in return for helping him win a job.

Prosecutors said Han received two envelopes - one containing $20,000 and the other $30,000 - from Kwak at the prime minister’s residence on Dec. 20, 2006. The former CEO of Korea Express was seeking to become the head of the state-run Korea Coal Corp., prosecutors said.

Han has denied the charges. She was arrested last week for questioning, but exercised her right to remain silent, calling the probe “politically manipulated.”

Han, the symbol of integrity in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, served as prime minister from April 2006 to March 2007. Yesterday’s indictment made Han the first former prime minister to be indicted for bribery charges in an influence-peddling case.

In the past, two politicians who had served as prime minister in the Kim Dae-jung administration were indicted on charges of receiving illegal political funds from conglomerates ahead of elections, but Han was the first to be prosecuted for the alleged influence-peddling in office.

Both Kim Jong-pil and Lee Han-dong cooperated with the probes at the time and admitted their guilt during trials.

At the National Assembly’s legislative and judiciary committee, Democratic Party lawmakers grilled Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam about the Han probe. While Minister Lee said the prosecution has handled the case based on law and principles, DP Representative Park Young-sun said prosecutors have been unfairly hard on Han. Park said while prosecutors were quick to insult Han by arresting her only three weeks into the probe, Grand National Representative Gong Sung-jin, who has been accused of receiving bribes in a separate graft scandal, has not yet been questioned although the case was opened a month and half ago.

The justice minister told the legislature that it was unfortunate that Han’s charges had been leaked to the media, adding that the prosecution is treating both cases equally and fairly.

In a separate graft case, Gong has been accused of receiving 400 million won from the owner of the State Wilshire Country Club in Gyeonggi. Prosecutors said they will summon Gong today and question him about the allegations.

The prosecution indicted yesterday Grand National Party Representative Hyun Gyoung-byoung on charges of receiving political bribes from the same country club owner.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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