Prosecutors suspend indictment of Erica Kim

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Prosecutors suspend indictment of Erica Kim

Seoul prosecutors have suspended the prosecution of Erica Kim, who had shaken the 2007 presidential election campaign by accusing then-presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak of being involved in a financial scam, although their probe found grounds to indict her for embezzlement.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday it has wrapped up its probe into the 47-year-old Korean-American, who abruptly came to Korea at the end of last month. She was investigated on charges of colluding with her younger brother, Kyung-joon, in a financial crime involving the investment firm BBK and making false accusation against Lee before the 2007 presidential election.

Just before the election, the Kims claimed that Lee was the beneficiary and mastermind of the BBK stock price manipulation scandal. BBK is an investment firm and Kim Kyung-joon and Lee were business partners from 2000 to 2001.

According to the prosecution, the investigation found evidence that she had taken part in her brother’s embezzlement of BBK investors’ money. The prosecutors, however, decided to suspend the indictment because her involvement was minor and her brother was serving a prison term for the financial crime.

About 5,500 investors lost money in the BBK scam, and the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Kim Kyung-joon in May 2009 for embezzling more than 38 billion won ($33.8 million) in corporate funds and violating election laws. The court ordered him to serve eight years in prison and pay 10 billion won in fines.

Her decision to return to Korea to submit to the probe and her responsibility to pay back the financial crime victims were also considered in the decision to suspend her indictment, a prosecution official said.

The statute of limitations for violating Korea’s election law by making public false accusations against Lee had already been expired, the prosecution also said. The prosecution had until June of 2009 to indict her on the charge.

“I knew the accusations were false, but my brother made an [appeal] to [lie],” she was quoted as saying by the prosecution about her motive. “I thought my brother could get help from politicians if I made accusations during the presidential campaign period, so I had committed wrong.”

The allegations exposed by the Kims grabbed the nation’s attention in 2007. Just before the election, the prosecution investigated Lee and cleared him of any involvement in the investment fraud.

On the eve of the election, Lee also agreed to submit to an independent counsel probe for the fraud allegations dogging him throughout the campaign. The next day, he won the presidential election, and the probe took place as promised and cleared Lee in February 2008 in time for his inauguration.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


Related Korean Article[경향신문]

‘BBK의혹’ 에리카 김 기소유예

야당 “면죄부 주기 위한 기획수사로 판명” 반발

서울중앙지검 특수1부(이동열 부장검사)는 21일 옵셔널벤처스(옛 BBK투자자문) 자금 319억원을 횡령한 혐의를 받고 있는 에리카 김(사진)에 대해 기소유예 처분했다. 검찰은 김씨의 주가조작 및 공직선거법 위반 혐의도 공소시효가 지났다며 불기소 처분했다. 김씨는 검찰에서 “정치권으로부터 동생의 수사나 재판에 도움을 받을 수 있다고 생각했고, 미국에서 진행 중인 소송에도 유리하다고 판단해 BBK 의혹을 허위 폭로했다”고 진술했다.

에리카 김은 2007년 대선을 앞두고 동생 경준씨와 함께 BBK 의혹을 제기한 당사자로, 지난달 25일 미국에서 전격 귀국해 관심을 모았다. 그러나 BBK 의혹이 허위였음을 ‘자백’하고, 모든 혐의에 대해 형사처벌을 면하는 것으로 그에 대한 수사는 종결됐다.

에리카 김이 귀국한 뒤 정치권에선 ‘현 정권 임기 내에 BBK 사건을 털기 위해 정권 핵심부와 조율을 거쳐 입국한 것 아니냐’는 의혹과 함께 검찰이 김씨를 불기소 처분할 것이라는 관측이 제기된 바 있다.

검찰은 에리카 김이 동생 경준씨와 공모해 옵셔널벤처스 자금을 횡령한 혐의(특정경제범죄가중처벌법상 횡령)에 대해 “범죄사실이 인정되지만 가담 정도가 경미하고 동생이 중형을 선고받아 복역 중인 점 등을 감안해 기소하지 않기로 했다”고 밝혔다.

동생 경준씨의 재판 과정에서 김씨가 횡령에 가담한 구체적 정황이 확인돼 무혐의 처분이 불가능한 상황이었음을 감안하면, 기소유예는 검찰이 내릴 수 있는 선처의 최대치라는 분석이 나온다. 검찰이 범죄사실을 확인하고도 ‘정상참작’ 등을 이유로 김씨를 기소하지 않은 데 대해 ‘기소권 남용’이라는 비판도 제기된다.

검찰은 에리카 김이 옵셔널벤처스 주가조작에 가담한 혐의에 대해선 공소시효가 지났고 혐의도 확인되지 않았다며 ‘공소권 없음’으로 불기소 처분했다. 2007년 대선 직전 ‘이명박 후보가 BBK 주식 100%를 관련 회사인 LKe뱅크에 매각한다’는 이면계약서를 위조해 허위사실을 공표한 혐의에 대해서도 “혐의는 확인됐지만 공소시효가 지났다”며 불기소 처분했다.

전현희 민주당 원내대변인은 “입국 초기부터 제기된, 면죄부를 주기 위한 정해진 수순의 기획수사라는 설이 사실로 판명됐다”며 “특검과 국정조사를 도입할 것”이라고 말했다.

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