Ex-premier Han takes stand to deny charge
Han, the symbol of integrity in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, served as prime minister from April 2006 to March 2007. She was indicted in December for allegedly receiving a $50,000 bribe from Kwak Young-wook, former CEO of Korea Express, in return for helping him win a job.
The first session of the trial began yesterday afternoon, and Han entered the court accompanied by Democratic Party leaders as well as former Roh administration officials. About 60 of her backers waited for her in the court’s lobby, holding white lilies to show their support.
In her opening statement, Han told the three-judge panel that she will “lay bare the truth,” and called the prosecution’s accusation “groundless and malicious.”
Throughout the probe last year, Han exercised her right to remain silent in protest of the investigation, promising that she would state her position at trial.
“I want to say it clearly. The prosecution’s accusations are completely groundless,” Han told the judges. “I did not take $50,000.”
She also said it was impossible for her to have received money at a luncheon inside the prime minister’s residence while her aides and bodyguards were present, as prosecutors have charged.
In their indictment, prosecutors said Han was given the money during a luncheon at the prime minister’s residence on Dec. 20, 2006, in return for an introduction to then-Commerce Minister Chung Sye-kyun.
“The luncheon was a year-end party with my friends after Chung expressed his intention to step down,” she told the judges. “When we had the luncheon, he had already decided to resign from his post [to return to the party], and he submitted the resignation officially nine days later.
“Does it make sense that a prime minister would seek a favor about a job appointment from a resigning minister?” Han asked. “The prosecution’s argument is absurd.” She added that she kept her lawmaker’s seat while serving as the prime minister, and so had every opportunity to raise political funds legitimately. “To avoid a scandal, I didn’t even do that,” she said.
Han said that Kwak falsely testified against her because he “had become a hostage of the prosecutors.”
After Han finished her statement, Kwon Oh-seong, the senior prosecutor of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in charge of the case, denied her claim that the investigation was politically motivated.
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]