Han trial may hurt GNP at election

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Han trial may hurt GNP at election

Unexpected developments in the ongoing corruption trial of former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook that could lead to her acquittal have cast a dark cloud over the Grand National Party’s ambitions to win the Seoul mayoral election in June.

Kwak Young-wook, the former Korea Express CEO who had said he paid Han $50,000 in return for her help in obtaining a job, changed his testimony at trial, and the court has instructed prosecutors to consider revising the charges against her.

Now the Grand Nationals are worried that a possible acquittal of Han, along with the first anniversary of former president Roh Moo-hyun’s death on May 23, will unite liberal voters on the eve of the June local elections. “We need a contingency plan,” said Representative Chung Doo-un, the head of the GNP’s local elections camp.

Han had made public her ambition to run for Seoul mayor at the end of last month, and asked the Seoul Central District Court to expedite her trial. The verdict is scheduled for April 9.

The symbol of integrity in the Roh administration was indicted in December. She has consistently denied the charges against her and claimed the investigation was politically motivated.

Kwak initially told prosecutors late last year that he gave Han two envelopes, containing $20,000 and $30,000, after a luncheon at the prime minister’s office when two of them were left alone. The indictment against Han was based on Kwak’s statement.

Kwak, however, changed his testimony when he took the witness stand on March 11. “After the luncheon, I left the envelopes on a chair in the dining room,” he said during the trial.

Noting that it was unclear whether Kwak left the money on a chair or handed it to someone, the court told the prosecution Thursday that it should make the charges more specific.

As the verdict pends, some inside the GNP are stewing.

“If she is acquitted on April 9, we will probably need to completely rewrite our campaign strategy,” said a senior official of the ruling circle. “Her image as a victim of persecution will be highlighted and the liberal voters will likely unite for Roh’s anniversary. It would make for an unpredictable situation.” Factions inside the Blue
House and the GNP say the party needs to field a prominent political heavyweight as a contender. Selecting a candidate as high-profile as Park Geun-hye or Chung Mong-joon would guarantee the GNP victory, they said.

Sources said concerns have grown so serious that the issue was discussed at the Blue House senior secretariat meeting presided over by President Lee Myung-bak last week.

The GNP and the Blue House, however, are cautious about discussing the matter openly because they do not want to discourage hopefuls while Han’s fate is undecided. “Some are creating a sense of crisis by connecting Han’s trial and the Seoul mayoral election. But that’s exactly what the opposition party wants,” said a Blue House official.


By Seo Seung-woo, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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