Controversy grows over Cheongmok donationsProsecutors and the legislature are in a fierce standoff on the money-for-legislation scandal involving Cheongmok Club, a security guards’ association.
As public criticism has grown over the legislature’s quick attempt to pass revisions of a political fund-raising law - which would effectively acquit six indicted lawmakers if adopted - the Grand National and Democratic parties took a step back in making a final decision at a meeting Monday.
In the meantime, the trial of six indicted lawmakers including Grand National lawmakers Kwon Kyung-seok, Ryu Jung-hyun and Cho Jin-hyeong; DP lawmakers Choe Kyoo-sik and Kang Gi-jug; and Liberty Forward Party lawmaker Lee Myoung-soo continued yesterday at Seoul Northern District Court.
The six lawmakers are accused of receiving donations of more than 10 million won ($8,900) from Cheongmok Club since last March, which used a loophole in the nation’s political fund-raising law that allowed a range in donations, in return for legislative favors that boosted security guards’ wages and delayed their retirement age. The Cheongmok Club scandal became embroiled in controversy since last Friday when the Public Administration and Security Committee suddenly passed the revised bill, which is being criticized as an explicit move to clear the six lawmakers. The revised bill would allow corporations and organizations to donate money if it is not from company funds.
In order to continue the trials of the six lawmakers, the prosecution announced on Monday that it will consider revising the current charges against the lawmakers of breaching the Political Fund Law to bribery. “If the revision bill is approved, we’ll apply bribery charges to keep the trials going,” a prosecution source said.
However, the lawmakers argue that they have been aboveboard in asserting that the donations were in small amounts from individuals, which is, in fact, legal. Under the current law, donations of less than 100,000 won are allowed without special documentation of a donor’s identity, with a 5 million won ceiling for an individual donor’s annual contribution to a politician.
But the prosecutors see it as receiving bribes because the lawmakers received small donations that eventually added up to larger sums and because the bill to improve benefits for security guards was initiated soon after the legislators received the donations from the club. Democratic Party Representative Choe Kyoo-sik is at the center of the scandal for initiating the bill after receiving 20 million won, according to prosecutors.
Another 32 lawmakers have received donations from Cheongmok Club, but were not indicted because the sum was less than 100,000 won.
The bill, which increased security guards’ wages and delayed retirement, was approved last November and took effect in February.
By Yim Seung-hye [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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