Chance to restore credibilityThe prosecution pressed further into the bribery investigation involving SLS Group Chairman Lee Kuk-chul and key aides of President Lee Myung-bak.
The case had lost steam after a Seoul court turned down a request by state prosecutors to arrest Lee and Shin Jae-min, former vice culture minister.
But the prosecution renewed its investigation after new charges were raised by the opposition. Prosecutors searched houses and offices of an aide of an influential person in the Lee administration.
They also searched the local residence of the head of SLS’s outlet in Japan, whom Lee accused of entertaining former Vice Knowledge Economy Minister Park Young-joon during his business trip to Japan.
The prosecutors’ investigation picked up after Democratic Party Rep. Park Jie-won claimed to be holding documental evidence that Lee has paid 3 billion won ($2.7 million) in cash as well as ownership rights in one of SLS affiliates to the aid of a key government official and a secretary of a ruling party legislator.
Lee, in trying to save his group that went into a debt workout program, attempted to seek a connection to authoritative officials above vice minister Shin’s rank.
He confessed to offering bribes and company stakes to lobby on behalf of his group. Since it has embarked on the public investigation, prosecutors must get to the bottom of the case.
There is speculation that 20 billion won worth of SLS Group assets already went into the business run by the aide of the political heavyweight.
It remains unclear whether the allegations have any grounds or are mere bluffing by Lee. But the president’s aides will only invite more speculation and suspicion if the investigation is closed without finding anything.
The series of corruption scandals involving presidential aides and government officials can accelerate the lame duck phenomenon during the last stage of President Lee’s term.
The prosecution’s fair and transparent investigation can help slow the weakening of the authority in the government.
The prosecution came under fire for trying to keep the case low-profile after SLS Group Chairman Lee blew the whistle on several key government officials.
The new lead and search is a second chance for the prosecution to delve into the case and restore credibility to public prosecution.