Lee associate questioned on ‘pi-city’

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Lee associate questioned on ‘pi-city’

Park Young-joon, a close associate of President Lee Myung-bak, appeared at the prosecution yesterday to face an investigation over widening suspicion that he and other key members of the administration had received bribes from a real estate developer in return for their influence to expedite a stalled project.

Park, former vice minister at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, appeared at the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, yesterday morning. The prosecutors summoned him on the widening scandal over the “pi-city” project.

“I will faithfully face the investigation,” Park told reporters. Asked if he had received money from the pi-city developer and used his influence over the Seoul Metropolitan Government officials in return to speed up the construction approval process, Park shook his head and said, “No.”

Asked if he has remained tightlipped to accusations because he admitted to the charges, Park said he did so only because the media often distorted his explanations. “I will tell prosecutors the whole truth,” he said.

The prosecution suspected that Park had received at least 100 million won ($88,638) from Lee Jung-bae, the former developer of pi-city, in 2007. Prosecution sources said Lee provided the money through lobbyist Lee Dong-yul.

Prosecutors also suspected that Park had received more money from Lee Jung-bae to purchase his apartment in Yongsan, central Seoul. Investigators are currently following the trail of money based on the developer’s testimony.

To prove that Park had influenced the approval process of the pi-city project, the prosecution has also been questioning Seoul city government officials including Kang Cheol-won, a former director of the city government. Kang reportedly told the prosecutors that he had received a request from Park in 2007, when he was still in the Seoul city government, to look into the approval of pi-city.

The prosecutors also suspected that Park had used his hometown friend to launder the bribes. Chairman Lee Dong-jo of the Pohang-based J&Tech is a close friend of Park, and the prosecutors obtained the evidence that the pi-city’s money was deposited into J&Tech’s account.

Known as “the king’s man” because of his close ties to the president, Park assisted President Lee throughout his political journey. Once an aide to the president’s elder brother, Park served the president closely throughout Lee’s Seoul mayor term and joined the Blue House after he took office in 2008.

After political pressure grew over his influence on the administration, Park left the Blue House but soon returned to the administration as the vice minister of government policy at the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009. In 2010, Lee appointed Park as the vice minister of knowledge economy and he served the post until May 2011.

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