Unprecedented inspection of premier’s residence

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Unprecedented inspection of premier’s residence

The prime minister’s residence in central Seoul will be inspected by a local court as part of the criminal trial of former Prime Minister Han
Myeong-sook on corruption charges. It is the first time a court has taken such an action.

A three-judge panel of the Seoul Central District Court is trying to determine if Han received money from a local businessman while she was in office.

The court said it has accepted a request from Han’s attorney to hold the on-site visit.

The judges will view the prime minister’s residence on March 22 to clarify the prosecution and defense’s conflicting versions of what took place.

“The site inspection will allow the judges to see if Han could have really received money in that room as the prosecution claims, where other people would have been during the alleged crime,” said Jo Gwang-hee, Han’s attorney.

Han, the symbol of integrity in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, served as prime minister from April 2006 to March 2007.

Prosecutors indicted her in December on charges of receiving bribes from Kwak Young-wook, former CEO of Korea Express, in return for helping him win a job.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said Han received $50,000 from Kwak during a luncheon at the prime minister’s residence on Dec. 20, 2006.

Han has denied the charge.

When arrested for questioning, Han exercised her right to remain silent, calling the probe “politically manipulated.”

Prosecutors have said Han received two envelopes - one containing $20,000 and the other $30,000 - from Kwak.

Prosecutors and Han’s attorney will accompany the judges, but Han won’t.

They will mainly view the prime minister’s dining room. The room reportedly has a table and seats only a handful, because the official banquets of the prime minister are hosted in another building. The dining room is often used for private gatherings, sources said.

Jo also said photographs of the dining room’s interior will be submitted to the court as evidence because the residence is redecorated whenever a new prime minister takes office.

The court also said it will expedite the trial by hearing the case three times a week starting next week in order to complete presentation of evidence by the end of the month. A verdict is scheduled for April 9.

Jo asked for a faster trial because Han has made public her intention to run for Seoul mayor in June. Saying that Han has to prepare for the election starting in April, Jo asked the court to move quickly.

The court also finalized a list of 31 witnesses to testify at the trial. Among them are Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun, who was commerce minister at the time of the suspected bribery, and former construction minister Kang Dong-suk.

Both of the former ministers attended the luncheon in question. The court said it will listen to Kang’s testimony on March 15. Chung has been asked to appear on March 26.

Chung, however, is unlikely to testify.

“The prosecution has asked Chung, the head of the largest opposition party, to testify as a witness, although it is very clear that he won’t speak favorably to prosecutors,” said Woo Sang-ho, spokesman of the DP.

“The prosecution has the malicious intent to taint the image of the opposition party on the eve of the local elections. Not only the probe, but also the trial, is politically motivated.”

While Chung won’t take the witness stand, he is considering submitting written testimony to prove Han’s innocence, according to Woo.

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