Prosecutors say guards scandal carefully planned

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Prosecutors say guards scandal carefully planned

Government prosecutors said yesterday that a security guards association had carefully planned its donations to lawmakers by using a loophole in the nation’s political funding law to hide its connection to the legislative change aimed at boosting their pay.

Of the 38 lawmakers who received money from the association, eight received significant cash donations totaling 60 million won ($52,967) along with its membership roster, the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday.

Prosecutors suspect that the security guards association, the Cheongmok Club, provided its membership roster with the cash to sidestep the law governing political fund-raising to hide the association’s ties with the legislation.

Under the nation’s political funding law, small donations of less than 100,000 won are allowed without special documentation of donors’ identities. There is also a 5 million won ceiling limit for an individual donor’s annual contribution to a politician.

After the initial 60 million won in cash donations, the association donated another 240 million won to 32 lawmakers in small installments worth 100,000 won, the prosecution said.

The prosecution is investigating donations from the Cheongmok Club to both ruling and opposition party lawmakers in exchange for lawmakers’ support for a bill that boosted the security guards’ wages and delayed their retirement age.

Democratic Party Representative Choe Kyoo-sik, one of the eight lawmakers to have received the initial cash donations from the security guards association, appears to be at the center of the scandal, as he had initiated the bill.

Choe received cash donations from the Cheongmok Club in April last year. Around the same time, Choe proposed the security guards bill. Following the legislature’s approval at the end of last year, the revised law governing the security guards took effect in February.

Sources said 10 million won was donated to Choe by family members of two Cheongmok members in April last year, but Choe’s office returned the money to them shortly thereafter.

Three months later, Choe received a flood of small donations, worth 100,000 won each, from association members. The sum of the donations made from July 7 to July 17, 2009, totaled 20 million won, the prosecution said.

The Cheongmok Club is also accused of providing another 30 million won to Choe, of which 20 million won was handed over in cash to Choe’s staffer, only identified as Park, with a list of association members’ names. Park and another staffer of Choe were brought in on Tuesday evening for questioning.

The prosecution also said the Cheongmok Club had meticulously planned the influence-buying since late 2008.

Prosecutors said the club’s head, Choi Yun-sik, told its members in January last year that Choe had promised to propose the revision bill.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party said yesterday that its five lawmakers, including Choe, and their staffers will cooperate with the prosecution’s investigation.

The largest opposition party, however, said it will continue boycotting budget-related sessions in the National Assembly to protest the prosecution’s raid of lawmakers’ offices on Nov. 5.

DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu also said he will start a sit-in at the National Assembly for the next 100 hours, urging the Lee administration and the Grand National Party to accept the DP’s demand for a National Assembly investigation into alleged power abuse by the Blue House of conducting illegal surveillance of civilians, top government officials and politicians.

“President Lee should make a bold decision to accept the legislature’s investigation into the administration’s alleged illegal activities,” Sohn said yesterday.

Fifty-one DP lawmakers also demanded that Lee accept the National Assembly investigation.

The ruling GNP threatened to start a unilateral review of the budget, saying that they are pressuring the opposition to stop the boycott and carry out their parliamentary responsibilities.

By Ser Myo-ja, Lee Han-gil []
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