Subpoenas in case of money-for-legislationThe prosecution yesterday began sending subpoenas to lawmakers suspected of receiving money from a security guards’ association in return for their legislative favor.
The Seoul Northern District Public Prosecutors’ Office has been looking into the money-for-legislation scandal involving the Cheongmok Club, an association of security guards of public office and local governments, and ruling and opposition lawmakers.
“Starting today, the subpoenas will be sent one after another,” a prosecution official said. “Since the National Assembly is in session, we will have to discuss the specific schedule for the questioning with each lawmaker.”
The prosecution suspects that donations from the Cheongmok Club to both ruling and opposition party lawmakers were made in exchange for lawmakers’ support of a bill that boosted the security guards’ wages and delayed their retirement age.
“Not all 11 lawmakers whose offices were raided will be summoned,” another prosecution official said. The prosecution conducted the raids on Nov. 5.
Lawmakers who received donations of more than 10 million won ($8,800) from the Cheongmok Club, including Democratic Party Representative Choe Kyoo-sik, will be subpoenaed, sources said.
Choe has been at the center of the scandal because he received a large amount of donations from the association and he initiated the bill.
“I will appear at the prosecution to cooperate with the questioning when I receive a subpoena,” Choe said.
According to the prosecution, 12 lawmakers, including five Grand Nationals and one from the Liberty Forward Party, received more than 10 million won from the association.
Five incumbent Democratic Party lawmakers and North Chuncheong Governor Lee Si-jong, who was a lawmaker last year, also received more than 10 million won each.
Twenty-six other lawmakers also received donations as high as 6 million won each from the association, the prosecution said.
Under the nation’s political funding law, donations of less than 100,000 won are allowed without special documentation of donors’ identities. There is also a 5 million won ceiling for an individual donor’s annual contribution to a politician.
While the prosecutors said the association had provided donations to the lawmakers at every important legislative step, lawmakers who were suspected of being bribed argued otherwise.
Choe received a donation of 10 million won in cash from the Cheongmok Club in April last year, but Choe’s office returned the money to the club 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.
“It is not a coincidence that he received the donations when he presented the bill,” a prosecution official said.
According to the prosecution, Liberty Forward Party Representative Lee Myoung-soo, who also proposed a similar bill to improve work benefits for security guards, also received donations totaling 10 million won in March last year, just one month before he submitted the bill.
Twenty-four lawmakers were also funded by the club, receiving donations ranging from 5 million won to 20 million won each, shortly before the bill moved forward for a vote in November last year. With the National Assembly’s approval, it took effect last February.
Lawmakers said they did not break the political fundraising law.
“Listening to the donors’ opinions and a crime of illegal political bribery are two completely separate things,” said DP Representative Kang Gi-jug, who was also identified by the prosecutors as having received more than 10 million won from the club.
“I was not involved in the legislative process of the bill at all, but donations were deposited to my fund-raising account,” said GNP Representative Lee In-ki.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party decided yesterday to end the boycott of legislative sessions, while continuing its protest against the Lee Myung-bak administration outside the National Assembly.
The opposition party held a senior leadership meeting and general lawmakers’ assembly and decided on the “two-track” approach.
While the lawmakers will return to the Special Committee on Budget and Accounting to join the Grand Nationals to deliberate on next year’s budget, the party also planned a series of protests outside the legislature.
In cooperation with liberal opposition parties and civic groups, DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu was to begin a rally at the Seoul Plaza yesterday until next Monday to demand an independent counsel probe and a National Assembly investigation into the Lee Myung-bak administration’s alleged power abuse in illegally spying on civilians and high-profile politicians.
The Democrats also want an investigation into suspicions that the Blue House had been involved in the surveillance operation.
By Lee Han-gil, Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]