Prosecutors cast wider net in vote-buying case

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Prosecutors cast wider net in vote-buying case

The prosecution’s probe into the allegations that National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae attempted to buy votes to become the Grand National Party chairman in 2008 widened yesterday as investigators began preparations to summon key managers of Park’s campaign, including a senior Blue House secretary, over the scandal.

The special investigation unit of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday it will summon top officials of Park’s campaign, including Kim Hyo-jae, current senior Blue House secretary for political affairs. Park served as the GNP’s chairman from July 2008 to September 2009 after winning the leadership race. Kim served as a chief manager of Park’s campaign.

The investigation was prompted by a bombshell revelation by Representative Koh Seung-duk. Koh claimed that Park had sent him an envelope stuffed with 3 million won ($2,590) on the eve of the chairmanship election, but he later returned it.

The prosecution’s plan to summon Kim fuels suspicion that the senior presidential aide was involved in the scandal. While Koh said it was not Kim who delivered the money to his office at the press conference on Monday, the Dong-A Ilbo reported yesterday that Koh told prosecutors about Kim’s involvement.

According to the report, quoting sources from the law enforcement authorities, Koh told the prosecutors that Kim had telephoned him after he sent back the money.

“Kim called me and asked why I returned it,” Koh was quoted as telling the prosecutors. “I told him that receiving it would be inappropriate.”

Koh was questioned by the prosecutors for 11 hours on Sunday to give a detailed account of what had happened in July 2008.

“My position remains unchanged,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

After some local media reported Friday that Park had sent the money to Koh through Kim, Kim denied it.

“I did not speak or even have eye contact with Koh during the 18th National Assembly’s term [which began in April 2008],” Kim told the reporters at the time.

Kim also said Koh should reveal why he was making such a claim. Although the prosecutors have not summoned him yet, Kim said, “If I am summoned, I will go and clearly explain that it had never happened.”

At the time of the 2008 GNP leadership election, Kim supervised the operation of Park’s campaign including public affairs, scheduling, messages and organization.

A former journalist for the Chosun Ilbo with decades of experience, Kim won the legislative election in April 2008 to begin his first term. Deeply trusted by President Lee Myung-bak and other key Lee loyalists, Kim reportedly oversaw the Park campaign as Park was also a Lee loyalist. After Park won the chairmanship, Kim served as his chief of staff.

In addition to Kim, other senior members of Park’s campaign have also become the target of the prosecution’s investigation. Jo Jeong-man, senior policy secretary to National Assembly Speaker Park, is suspected to be linked to the scandal. Jo has assisted Park for more than 20 years and reportedly oversaw the campaign funding.

Park’s former aide, Goh Myeong-jin, was also questioned for the second day yesterday after Koh’s aide told the prosecution that he had returned the money to him.

According to prosecution sources, Goh said he did receive the envelope returned from Koh, but spent the 3 million won himself. Goh still denied that he was the deliveryman of the envelope to Koh’s office.

The prosecutors also expanded their probe into another vote-buying allegation involving Park’s other campaign staffer.

Prosecutors also raided the home of Ahn Byeong-yong, head of the GNP’s chapter in Eunpyeong District in Seoul, on Wednesday. During the 2008 chairmanship election, Ahn was working for Park’s campaign and accusations were made recently that Ahn had attempted to bribe about 30 party officials in Seoul.

Ahn was accused of providing 20 million won to five members of the Eunpyeong District’s local council, asking them to distribute 500,000 won each to the 30 party officials. The five local council members, however, returned the money to Ahn a few days later, sources close to the investigation said. The prosecutors already questioned some of the local council members earlier this week to substantiate the allegation. Ahn, however, denied the accusation yesterday.

Ahn, 54, was reportedly tasked with organizing support for Park’s campaign outside the party. After joining the GNP in 1997, Ahn worked as a special political advisor to President Lee during the 2007 presidential election. He ran in the April 2008 legislative election on the GNP ticket in Eunpyeong District, but lost to his Democratic Party rival.

By Ser Myo-ja, Jung Hyo-sik []
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