Opposition claims bribe linked to Lee’s 2007 fund
On the eve of the prosecution’s interrogation of a senior ruling party lawmaker, pressure weighed on investigators to look deeper into the savings bank scandal, as the largest opposition party claimed the case could be linked to the 2007 presidential campaign fund of Lee Myung-bak.
The joint investigation team under the central investigation unit of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office questioned Lee Sang-deuk, the president’s elder brother, overnight for 16 hours before sending him home early yesterday morning.
Following questioning of the former six-term lawmaker, the prosecutors said their next target will be Representative Chung Doo-un of the Saenuri Party.
Chung, a three-term lawmaker representing Seodaemun B District of western Seoul, was seen as a link between the president’s brother and the savings bank scandal.
Sources at the prosecution said both Chung and Lee were suspected of receiving money from the same banker - Chairman Lim Suk of Solomon Savings Bank.
The 77-year-old Lee was questioned about suspicions that he had received a total of 600 million won ($528,000) from Solomon Savings Bank and Mirae Savings Bank from 2007 to 2010 as they tried to salvage their businesses.
Despite the alleged lobbying, the two banks were suspended in May this year on risk of insolvency.
Chung was accused of introducing the presidential elder brother to Lim of Solomon Savings Bank and receiving money from him. There are also suspicions that Chung accompanied Lee when Lim gave the presidential brother money.
Lim was already indicted on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust as well as illegal lobbying.
A primary suspect in the widening savings bank scandal, the 50-year-old banker was accused of receiving 2 billion won from Kim Chan-kyong, chairman of troubled Mirae Savings Bank, in return for using his personal connections to lobby top politicians and government officials to keep Kim’s sinking bank afloat.
A senior official with the Prime Minister’s Office introduced Chung to Lim before the ruling party’s presidential primary in 2007. Chung then introduced Lim to the presidential elder brother.
While the basic accounts of the meetings were the same for the prosecution and Chung, they differ in detail and purpose.
The prosecution said Lim testified that he gave Chung a little less than 100 million won in total on several occasions from 2007 to 2008.
Chung, however, denied the charge. As speculations snowballed over his involvement in the widening scandal, Chung posted yesterday messages on Twitter.
Chung said a report by the Kyunghyang Shinmun that he had introduced Lim to Lee because he thought the banker would finance Lee Myung-bak’s presidential campaign was a complete fabrication based on a journalist’s imagination.
Stressing that he has asked for a correction, Chung also denied media reports that he accompanied Lee when Lim handed over the bribes. He also said he belatedly learned that Lim sent him about 30 million won in 2008, but he sent it back as soon as he found out about it.
Once a key associate of President Lee, Chung was a core member of Lee’s presidential campaign in 2007 along with Lee Sang-deuk and Lee Jae-oh. However, he was pushed aside in a fierce power struggle among the president’s associates that began shortly after Lee Myung-bak’s victory. He then reinvented himself as a reformist and became a vocal critic of the Lee administration. The Democratic United Party yesterday strongly pressured the prosecution to dig dipper.
“Their alleged bribe-receiving from the savings banks occurred in 2007,” said Representative Kang Gi-jung of the DUP Supreme Council. “There is a high possibility that the money was used to finance Lee Myung-bak’s presidential campaign.”
If the investigation uncovers illegal campaign funding, it will leave a deep scar on Lee Myung-bak’s presidency, especially since he strongly maintained that his campaign was free from corruption, particularly illegal funding.
Kang also said the prosecution must tackle the issue now, or else another probe will inevitably take place after Lee’s term ends.
Other Supreme Council members, including representatives Kim Han-gill and Choo Mi-ae, also urged the prosecution to look into the president’s 2007 election fund.
On the eve of his questioning, Chung appointed two former prosecutors as his lawyers and prepared for the probe.
“I see there is enough room for misunderstanding based on circumstantial evidence,” one of his lawyers told the JoongAng Ilbo. “But it is all a misunderstanding. Except for the 30 million won that failed to be delivered back to Lim, Chung had no financial transactions with Lim.”
The lawyer also said Chung introduced elder brother Lee to Lim when he was working for Lee Myung-bak’s presidential campaign, but never met Lim alone after 2008.
“We will provide enough explanation to the prosecution to clear up the misunderstanding,” he said.
The prosecution said the case against the presidential brother and the case against Chung were inseparable.
“We will decide what charges we will use against Lee and whether we need a pre-trial detention against him after questioning Chung,” a source said.
He also said the prosecution needs more time to see whether it wants to seek a pre-trial detention warrant against Chung, because the amount of the alleged bribe is not big, while it is different in nature from other illegal political funding cases.
Prosecutors normally seek a pre-trial detention warrant for a politician accused of receiving more than 200 million won.
By Ser Myo-ja, Moon Byung-joo [firstname.lastname@example.org]