Prosecutors go after 33 reps for illegal donations

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Prosecutors go after 33 reps for illegal donations

Prosecutors plan to summon 33 sitting lawmakers from the major ruling and opposition parties for allegedly receiving illegal donations from an association of security guards.

The Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday that the association donated a total of 270 million won ($241,500) to lawmakers in order to win their support for legislation governing security guard pay and retirement.

Last December, the National Assembly passed a bill that revised the law governing security guards, extending their retirement age to 60 from 59 and raising their monthly salaries. The revised law took effect in July.

“We’re now investigating what the money was for and whether it was offered to lawmakers in return for favors,” said an investigator at the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office.

If the 33 lawmakers are found to have taken money in return for favors, they will be subject to bribery charges, prosecutors said. Some Grand National Party and Democratic Party lawmakers who are named as alleged recipients flatly denied the money was illegal and said they were unaware it came from the association.

According to investigators, the association, which boasts a membership of over 10,000 security guards across the country, raised a total of 800 million won from 5,000 members and donated 270 million won to lawmakers under the names of over 1,000 security guards or their families.

Prosecutors alleged lawmakers received between 5 million and 50 million won in donations. The law prohibits political donations from an organization or a group. It also prohibits offering cash and bribes to public servants to lobby for favors. Prosecutors suspect the association deliberately evaded the campaign finance law and divided the 270 million won into small units - averaging 100,000 won - and donated the money on separate occasions under the names of the association’s members and their families.

Though the money was donated to the 33 lawmakers under individual names, prosecutors said that the association would be liable for violating the campaign finance law if the money came from the association.

“There were names of association members and their families in financial transaction records, and none of them described themselves as security guards or as members of the association representing security guards,” the investigator said.

Prosecutors last Thursday arrested three senior members of the association including its head in connection with the allegations. Based on testimonies of security guards under investigation, the prosecution said at least 10 out of 33 lawmakers who received over 10 million won belong to the National Assembly’s Public Administration and Security Committee.

In 2005, a local court fined former lawmaker Moon Seok-ho of the Uri Party, the predecessor of the Democratic Party, 10 million won for taking 55.6 million won in political donations from S-Oil officials who wanted support for building an oil refinery in Seosan, South Chungcheong. Moon argued the donations were legitimate ones from individuals but the court disagreed. Prosecutors say the security guard case is similar.

The prosecution’s investigation produced a strong backlash from politicians. At the National Assembly’s question-and-answer session yesterday, Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Seok-hyun asked Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam whether the investigation is politically motivated. “The ministry will thoroughly monitor the prosecution’s summons of the lawmakers,” Lee said.

Grand National Party Chairman Ahn Sang-soo said he won’t tolerate the prosecution’s investigation if it goes too far. “Prosecutors shouldn’t treat lawmakers as criminals,” Ahn said. “As the head of the ruling party, I give a word of warning to the prosecution.” Though Ahn later clarified that his remark was his personal opinion and that it didn’t represent the GNP’s official position, Ahn argued that the prosecution’s decision to summon lawmakers without concrete evidence “defiles lawmakers.”

Park Jie-won, the DP floor leader, said in a meeting with senior DP officials at the National Assembly yesterday that the association’s donations were “legitimate.”

By Kim Mi-ju, Lee Chul-jae []
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