GNP scrambles over chairman’s bribe claim

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GNP scrambles over chairman’s bribe claim

Following a bombshell revelation by a lawmaker that someone tried to buy his vote in a Grand National Party chairmanship election, the ruling party yesterday asked the prosecution to investigate.

Representative Koh Seung-duk told Yonhap News Agency Wednesday that there had been an attempt to bribe him before a chairmanship election, but he had turned it down. He didn’t specify which election.

Jolted by the report, the GNP’s emergency leadership, created last month to salvage the sinking ruling party, moved quickly yesterday to take the case to the prosecution.

“It is a matter to be investigated as soon as possible before suspicions spread further,” the GNP’s interim leader Park Geun-hye was quoted as saying at an emergency council meeting yesterday morning.

According to the report Wednesday, Koh said he had received an envelope containing 3 million won ($2,600) from a candidate before a chairmanship election but returned it. Koh said he turned it down because he supported the candidate already.

The first-term lawmaker said he was surprised at the candidate’s icy treatment of him after he rejected the bribe.

“The candidate eventually won the election, but he and the person who delivered the envelope treated me so coldly although I belonged to the same Lee Myung-bak faction and I had supported him,” Koh recalled. “I realized about six months later what the problem was. Other lawmakers told me that I should have made it clear when I rejected the money that I would still support him.”

Koh refused to disclose the name of the candidate and said the bribery attempt did not take place during last year’s leadership race, ruling out suspicions against former Chairman Hong Joon-pyo.

Since the 2008 legislative elections, the GNP has had three leadership elections, and Park Hee-tae, Ahn Sang-soo and Hong were elected as chairmen. Both Park and Ahn denied the accusations.

According to Hwang Young-cheul, GNP spokesman, the emergency council discussed Koh’s accusation yesterday morning and concluded that the prosecution must investigate the case, adding that the attempted bribe was in violation of the law governing political parties.

Under the Political Party Act, an attempt to buy a vote in a chairmanship election can be punished by up to three years in prison or up to 6 million won in fines.

Koh told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that he would cooperate with the prosecution to reveal the truth “for the sake of advancement and reform of politics.”

The opposition parties used the revelation to attack the ruling party’s integrity. “The president is surrounded by corruption scandals, and now the corruption reaches the chairmanship of the GNP,” said Oh Jong-sik, spokesman of the largest liberal opposition Democratic Unity Party. “Is the GNP really a party that buys everything, even its chairman?”

The Unified Progressive Party joined the attacks. “This is beginning to verify long-suspected rumors,” Cheon Ho-seon, the party’s spokesman, said. “The GNP must reveal who gave and received money and apologize to the public. Anyone involved in this bribery must leave politics.”

The GNP has been struggling to redefine its image of a plutocrat party by bringing fresh blood into its ranks, and Koh’s disclosure is expected to deal a blow to veteran politicians.

Loyalists of President Lee Myung-bak are already under pressure to stand down from running in April legislative elections. The president’s elder brother and key aides as well as former GNP leadership members have already been named as the targets of a purge by some emergency council members.

Koh’s disclosure also triggered a sense of deja vu. Ahead of the 2004 legislative elections, the GNP’s popularity plummeted after revelations were made that the party had received a truckload of illegal political funds. At the time, Park Geun-hye, the current interim leader of the GNP, took over the party as an emergency head and led the election campaign to successfully save the party.


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

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