Speaker resigns over bribes scandal

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Speaker resigns over bribes scandal

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Park Hee-tae, right, leaves the National Assembly speaker’s residence in Hannam-dong, central Seoul, yesterday, after his spokesman announced his resignation to take responsibility for a vote-buying scandal during the Grand National Party chairmanship election in 2008. [YONHAP]


National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae resigned yesterday after prosecutors received testimony about involvement by Park and a former aide in vote buying during the ruling party’s 2008 chairmanship election.

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Park’s resignation, the first by an Assembly speaker over a bribery scandal, came two months before a general election that the opposition hopes will give it a majority in the 299-member legislature.

“I decided to step down from the post of Assembly speaker, taking responsibility for the matter,” Park said through a statement read by spokesman Han Jong-tae at a media briefing at the National Assembly.

Park, who became chairman of the ruling party, then known as the Grand National Party, in the July 2008 election, has claimed innocence in the scandal. In his resignation statement yesterday, Park said he would take responsibility for the scandal but didn’t concede guilt.

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Kim Hyo-jae

An aide of Park’s who was suspected of delivering envelopes of cash to legislators for their votes, Goh Myeong-jin, had refused to talk about other people involved in the bribes. But the prosecution said earlier yesterday that he changed his mind last Friday and testified that he reported the delivery of the cash to Kim Hyo-jae, who was Park’s campaign manager.

Kim, now senior secretary for political affairs to President Lee Myung-bak, didn’t respond to questions from the media yesterday. The prosecution is known to be planning to summon both Park and Kim for questioning next week.

Park’s resignation may defeat the ruling party’s moves to refashion itself as being younger and cleaner. Last week, the party dropped the name it had used for 14 years and changed its logo and even the color with which it is associated.

“It is belated, but we think it is fortunate that he made a decision,” Hwang Young-cheul, the party’s spokesman, told media yesterday after a meeting of the party’s emergency council.

The main opposition Democratic United Party called for a thorough investigation of Park and Kim.

The scandal started when whistle-blowing Saenuri lawmaker Koh Seung-duk claimed on Jan. 3 that an envelope containing 3 million won ($2,700) in cash and Park’s name card was delivered to his office two or three days before the 2008 party convention. Koh said he returned the money to Park’s office.

Park denied being involved and declared he would not run for re-election, taking responsibility for “causing public disruption.” Park, a six-term lawmaker, served as the GNP’s chairman from 2008 to 2009. He gave up his party affiliation in June 2010 to become the speaker.

The prosecution summoned Goh three times to ask where the money he delivered to Koh came from, and, after Koh returned the envelope, where the money went. Goh claimed he spent the money himself.

The prosecution summoned him several times more for unofficial investigation, and he finally testified that he returned the envelope from Koh to Park’s chief secretary, Jo Jeong-man, and reported it to Kim Hyo-jae, indicating that he initially received money from Jo on the order of Kim.

The prosecution summoned Jo yesterday for the first time as a suspect in the scandal. He had been called twice before as a person of interest in the case and said he didn’t know anything about it.

“I made a decision [to reveal this] after seeing that the man responsible was trying to avoid this crisis using his power and by sacrificing a subordinate,” Goh said last Friday, according to the prosecution yesterday.

Late last month, a member of Seoul’s Eunpyeong District Legislative Council told prosecutors that he and four other council members were ordered to deliver money to the party’s 30 chapters in Seoul and they picked up the money from Kim’s office.

It was the first time a National Assembly speaker stepped down without finishing his term since 1993, when Speaker Park Jyun-kyu resigned over a scandal over how he accumulated his wealth. Syngman Rhee stepped down as speaker when he was inaugurated president in 1948, and Speaker Lee Ki-bung died in office in 1960.

A new speaker will be elected in a by-election and will serve through the rest of the term, which ends May 29, when the 18th National Assembly ends. The 16th article of the National Assembly Law says the by-election should be held without delay.

The speaker is appointed by the ruling party from its longest-serving lawmakers. Currently, there are three six-term lawmakers in the party: Chung Mong-joon, Hong Sa-duk and Lee Sang-deuk.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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