Controversy grows over Cheongmok donations

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Controversy grows over Cheongmok donations

Prosecutors 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 [enational@joongang.co.kr]


Related Korean Article[중앙일보]

검찰 “청목회 면죄법 강행 땐 뇌물죄 대응”


국회의 정치자금법 개정에 맞서 검찰이 공소장 변경을 통해 정면 대응하는 방안을 검토 중이다.

7일 검찰에 따르면 전국청원경찰친목협의회(청목회) 입법 로비 사건을 수사해온 서울북부지검은 정치자금법이 개정될 경우 공소 유지를 위해 기소된 의원들의 혐의를 뇌물죄로 바꾸는 방안을 논의하고 있는 것으로 알려졌다.

검찰 관계자는 이날 “국회 본회의의 개정안 처리 여부를 지켜보고 있다”며 “법이 바뀌더라도 면소 판결은 막겠다는 것이 검찰의 입장”이라고 말했다.

검찰은 2009년 청목회로부터 청원경찰법 개정에 협조해 달라는 부탁과 함께 불법 후원금을 받은 혐의로 최규식 민주당 의원 등 6명을 지난 1월 불구속 기소했다. 그러나 지난 4일 국회 행정안전위원회에서 기습 처리된 정치자금법 개정안이 본회의를 통과하면 법원이 면소(免訴·요건이 안 돼 기소를 면제하는 것) 판결을 할 가능성이 높다. 의원들이 입법활동과 관련해 법인이나 단체와 관련된 정치 자금을 받는 것이 일부 허용돼 처벌 조항이 사라지기 때문이다.


그러나 검찰이 혐의를 뇌물수수로 변경할 경우엔 재판을 계속 진행할 수 있다. 검찰은 지난해 말 청목회 수사 과정에서 이미 일부 의원에 대한 뇌물죄 적용 여부를 검토했었다.

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