Assembly speaker indicted in vote-buying case

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Assembly speaker indicted in vote-buying case

National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae was indicted yesterday over an attempt to buy votes in the 2008 leadership election of the ruling party, becoming the first incumbent leader of the legislature to face criminal prosecution.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office also indicted Kim Hyo-jae, a former presidential aide who had worked as the chief manager of Park’s campaign at the time, and Jo Jeong-man, a senior aide to Park who served as campaign finance manager, on similar charges.

Representative Koh Seung-duk of the Grand National Party (now Saenuri Party) made a stunning announcement in January by claiming that there was an attempt to buy his vote during the 2008 leadership election of the party, prompting the prosecution to launch a probe into the scandal.

After 47 days, prosecutors wrapped up their investigation and announced the outcome yesterday.

The indictment against Park makes the 74-year-old politician the first National Assembly speaker in office to be prosecuted.

Although he had declared his intention to step down from the post earlier this month, his resignation has not been approved at the legislature, meaning he is still the incumbent speaker of the National Assembly.

According to the prosecution, Park, Kim and Jo were accused of providing an envelope stuffed with 3 million won ($2,600) to Representative Koh on the eve of the July 3, 2008 leadership election, which Park won.

Koh said he later returned the money to Park’s camp but decided to inform the public about what had happened because he wanted to stop the tradition of bribe-ridden elections.

Under the nation’s law governing political parties, a vote-buying attempt is punishable by up to three years in prison or up to 6 million won in fines.

Although the prosecutors said the three were involved in an attempt to buy votes from Koh, the investigation failed to link them to a larger framework of systemic vote-buying attempts.

On Feb. 3, the prosecution had already indicted Ahn Byeong-yong, who was the GNP chapter head for Eunpyeong District A and a member of Park’s campaign in 2008, over a similar but separate vote-buying charge.

He was accused of providing 20 million won to five local council members to distribute the money to the party’s chapters in Seoul.

The prosecution said yesterday that it had suspicions that Park and Kim had been involved in Ahn’s attempt to distribute the 20 million won, but found no concrete evidence to link them to the case.

“While we were able to confirm that Park was the source of the 3 million won delivered to Representative Koh, we were unable to find evidence to prove the charges of the 20 million won as they all denied the accusations,” a prosecution source said.

While Ahn was indicted with pretrial detention, Park, Kim and Jo were not.

The prosecution said it had taken into account the fact Park and Kim had stepped down from their posts to face the charges.

“We also tried to find other lawmakers who allegedly received the money other than Representative Koh,” the prosecution official said.

“But because both the givers and the receivers would be punished, it was hard to find anyone willing to testify voluntarily. Our investigation into the bank transaction records also failed to go any further because the vote-buying attempts were believed to be made with cash.”

The prosecution said its investigation created an opportunity to eradicate the tradition of bribe-ridden leadership elections of political parties by thoroughly investigating all people involved, including the incumbent National Assembly speaker and the former Blue House senior secretary for political affairs.

The liberal opposition parties, however, condemned the prosecution for having tried to minimize the scandal with a lukewarm investigation.

“It was once again confirmed that we cannot expect anything from the prosecution under the political influence of the Lee Myung-bak administration and Saenuri Party,” said Shin Kyoung-min, spokesman of the Democratic United Party.

By Ser Myo-ja []
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