Witness in bribery case against Han is grilled

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Witness in bribery case against Han is grilled

A trial session over bribery allegations involving former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook ended early yesterday morning after prosecutors presented evidence to refute the claims of a former construction company owner who had recanted previous testimony that he had offered bribes to Han.

In December, Han Man-ho, former head of Hansin Gunyoung, reversed his position in court and claimed that he actually didn’t offer bribes in return for business favors.

Han’s remarks baffled the prosecutors and were greeted by the opposition Democratic Party that supports Han Myeong-sook since the prosecution had built its case against the former prime minister based on testimony from Han Man-ho, who said he gave her more than 974 million won ($865,008) in bribes in 2007.

During the trial Tuesday, prosecutors presented evidence of a recorded CD that contains a conversation between Han Man-ho and his mother on May 18, 2009, when Han’s mother visited him in prison.

Before playing the CD in court, prosecutors questioned Han over whether he remembers having the conversation.

According to prosecutors, Han told his mother that he requested help from Han Myeong-sook through her aide. surnamed Kim, and that he was waiting for a response from Kim.

Han told his mother that Kim said the former prime minister was in the U.S. and she would get back to him after discussing the matter.

When Han Man-ho told the prosecution that he “didn’t recall the conversation,” a prosecutor said he would play the recorded conversation.

An attorney defending Han Myeong-sook abruptly stood up and rejected the prosecution’s suggestion of playing the tape. “To help the witness to jog his memory, only the witness needs to hear the conversation,” said Kim Jin. “This shouldn’t be disclosed to an open trial like this.”

Prosecutors and attorneys backing Han Myeong-sook argued about the issue, and they were heckled by the audience.

At 3:20 p.m., justices ordered an hour’s recess to settle the difference.

Prosecutors during the recess disclosed the gist of the recorded CD conversation to reporters and accused Han Man-ho of perjury.

“Han Man-ho told his mother who came to see him in May and June of 2009 that he requested former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook to return his 300 million won,” said Yoon Gap-geun, a senior prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. “This contradicts Han [Myeong-sook]’s argument that she didn’t receive money from Han [Man-ho].”

Back in court at 6 p.m., prosecutors didn’t disclose the full conversation but they instead questioned him based on what was recorded in the CD. “Why did you tell your mother that you will get 300 million back from former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook?,” a prosecutor asked. Han replied, “That was an exaggerated remark.”

Han Myeong-sook was indicted in July on bribery charges. The trial resumes Jan. 11.

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