DP outcry over recant of bribery

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DP outcry over recant of bribery

Prosecutors are under fire from the opposition Democratic Party after a witness in a bribery case involving former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook recanted his testimony midway through Han’s trial on Monday, saying he actually didn’t offer her money in return for business favors.

Han’s supporters, including former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan and DP Representative Park Joo-sun, said the investigation is clearly “politically motivated” and a “fraud.”

The bombshell testimony came from Han Man-ho, former head of bankrupt construction firm Hansin Gunyoung. “At that time I had no other option but to make a false confession under duress,” he said during the trial. “I have never offered political funds to Han Myeong-sook.”

The prosecution built its case against Han based on accounts from Han Man-ho, who said he give the former prime minister more than 974 million won ($843,071) in bribes in 2007.

Thirty minutes after prosecutors began questioning Han Man-ho on Monday, he abruptly stood up and said he wanted to say something.

“I have consistently said while being questioned by the prosecution that I offered Han money, but that’s not true,” Han said, at which point the courtroom fell into disarray with shouts from the audience.

“A person who reported this case to the prosecution came to see me and blackmailed me over the upcoming Seoul mayoral election,” Han Man-ho said. “I had to falsify my testimony. My cowardice actually led [the former prime minister] into a trap.”

A female aide of Han Myeong-sook surnamed Kim, who is also accused of taking bribes from Han Man-ho, passed out in shock at the confession.

“I even thought about killing myself because I felt such pain about Han [Myeong-sook] being indicted again after she was defeated in the mayoral election [during the June 2 local elections],” Han said, tears rushing down his face. “I have waited for this trial. I figured I would be able to clear her charges at the trial, not at the prosecution’s questioning.”

Before Han Myeong-sook was indicted on these charges in July, she was indicted in December 2009 for accepting $50,000 in bribes from Kwak Young-wook, former CEO of Korea Express, but was acquitted in April after the Seoul Central District Court questioned the veracity of Kwak’s testimony during the trial.

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 the two of them were left alone.

The indictment against Han was based on Kwak’s statement.

But Kwak changed his testimony when he took the witness stand on March 11. He said he left the envelopes on a chair in the dining room.

Han Man-ho said that of the 974 million won he said he gave to the former prime minister, he lent 300 million won to Kim and used the rest as a bonus payment for brokers who helped his company win construction projects.

Another trial is scheduled for Jan. 4 and prosecutors plan to cross-examine Han Man-ho and the brokers.

Han Man-ho’s statement led supporters of the former prime minister and DP lawmakers to demand yesterday that prosecutors drop the bribery charges against her.

A group that supports Han Myeong-sook spoke out at the National Assembly yesterday.

“Monday’s testimony showed Han’s innocence and it also showed that the case is a fraud created by the current administration and politically-motivated prosecutors,” the group said. “President Lee Myung-bak must apologize . . . and the prosecutor general must resign.”

By Kim Mi-ju, Koo Hui-lyung [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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