Prosecutors launch second bribery probe against Han

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Prosecutors launch second bribery probe against Han

On the eve of a decision in the bribery trial of former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook, the government launched a new corruption probe, raiding a builder yesterday on charges of having provided illegal political funds to Han.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office raided a construction company in Gyeonggi, an affiliated company and an accounting firm yesterday morning, after obtaining warrants from a local court on Wednesday night. Investigators secured the companies’ books, computers and audit reports.

The prosecution said the latest bribery investigation is separate from the earlier bribery charge against Han.

Han, the symbol of integrity in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, served as prime minister from 2006 to 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 while she was in office.

The Seoul Central District Court had heard the case earlier this year and is scheduled to rule on it today. The prosecutors have asked the court to punish Han with a five-year jail term.

According to the prosecution sources, the construction company is suspected of having provided about 600 million won ($533,808) of bribes to Han around March 2007, after she left the prime minister post.

At the time, Han was the Democratic Party’s representative for Goyang and Ilsan districts of Gyeonggi, where the headquarters of the builder is located.

The sources said the head of the construction company and Han met at a private clan gathering. The company went bankrupt in March 2009 and its creditors tipped off the prosecution to the alleged bribery, sources said.

“We recently received the tips about the new allegations, so we are checking on them,” said Kim Ju-hyun, a senior prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

“We are doing what a law enforcement authority is supposed to do.”

Another source also said the probe won’t take too long, because the tips were very specific.

Han’s attorney Jo Gwang-hee strongly condemned the prosecution’s move. “The allegations are unheard of, and we cannot understand why prosecutors opened a new probe right at this time,” said Jo.

The Democratic Party also reacted angrily.

“The prosecutors have lost their reason,” said Woo Sang-ho, spokesman of the main opposition party.

“She is highly likely to be acquitted, and the prosecution has an intention to clearly damage her image ahead of the campaign period.”

Han has made public her bid to run for Seoul mayor in the June 2 local elections.

“Do we really have to fight against the prosecutors, not the Grand National Party, throughout the campaign period?” Woo said, claiming that the probe has a political motive to “nail Han no matter what happens.”

By Lee Chul-jae, Ser Myo-ja []
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