Text message found in bribe scandalProsecutors raided the homes of a former ruling party lawmaker as part of their probe into the money-for-nomination scandal of the party, after securing evidence about the alleged candidacy-buying.
Busan prosecutors and investigators stormed the two houses of Hyun Ki-hwan, a former nomination committee member of the Saenuri Party, over the allegation that Representative Hyun Young-hee, a first-term proportional lawmaker of the Saenuri Party, had bribed him on the eve of the April 11 legislative elections.
The allegation was first raised by Representative Hyun’s former aide Jung Dong-geun.
The prosecution also found a text message from the nominator Hyun in the mobile phone of Jo Gi-mun, an alleged middleman of the nomination-buying scandal, on the day of the suspected money delivery.
After Jung told prosecutors that he met with Jo at Seoul Station on March 15 and handed over a shopping bag stuffed with cash, the prosecution focused its investigation on finding the connection between Jo and Hyun Ki-hwan.
According to a prosecution source, the investigation confirmed that Jo received a text message from Hyun Ki-hwan on the day of the alleged bribery.
“I arrived at Seoul Station at 6:45 p.m. on March 15 and met with Jo at a restaurant in the station,” Jung was quoted as having told the prosecutors.
“I handed over a shopping bag containing 300 million won ($265,584) to Jo. And then at the coffee shop on the second floor of the station, Jo had a telephone call with Hyun Ki-hwan. After the phone call, Jo showed me the text message, which said ‘Hyun Ki-hwan: I understand.’ ”
The prosecution source said the text message was found in Jo’s mobile phone, but it didn’t come from a cell phone that was under Hyun Ki-hwan’s name. Prosecutors are currently looking into the real owner of the mobile phone.
Hyun Ki-hwan denied that he had any contact with Jo that day.
“I didn’t talk with Jo on the phone, nor exchange text messages,” he said. “I already submitted my mobile phone communication record to the prosecution.”
He also denied owning a second mobile phone. “For the past 10 years, I have never used other mobile phones,” he said.
“Because there is no physical evidence that Hyun Ki-hwan received 300 million won from Jo, the statement from Jo is important,” the prosecution source said. “Depending on his testimony, the investigation’s direction will change.”
Prosecutors will seek arrest warrants for Representative Hyun and the middleman as early as this week.
The Busan District Prosecutors’ Office summoned Jo on Tuesday and questioned him overnight.
In earlier questioning, which took place Saturday, Jo denied that he had received a shopping bag of cash. He claimed that he only received 5 million won from Representative Hyun as her financial support for the party’s operation.
At the time of the suspected nomination buying, Jo was the public relations head of the Saenuri Party’s Busan chapter. He also served as a special adviser to Hong Joon-pyo, former chairman of the conservative ruling party.
The prosecutors also found evidence that large withdrawals were made from Representative Hyun’s husband’s bank accounts before the nomination was announced.
The prosecution is looking into the possibility that Hyun used her husband’s money to buy her nomination.
Hyun was questioned for about 13 hours by the prosecution until Tuesday morning, and she denied all accusations of nomination buying, the prosecution source said.
While Representative Hyun, the alleged bribe-giver, and Hyun Ki-hwan, the alleged bribe-taker, both denied the charges, the prosecution is now focusing on Jo’s testimony, the key suspect in the scandal, as he has changed his testimony repeatedly.
On Friday, Jo told the JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC that he didn’t meet Jung on March 15, claiming that he was in Busan, not in Seoul.
The next day, Jo changed his story and told Yonhap News Agency that he was indeed in Seoul that day, but didn’t meet Jung.
On the same day, he told the prosecution a different story. He said he met with Jung at Seoul Station, but he didn’t receive a shopping bag containing 300 million won. He said he only received 500 million won from Representative Hyun.
The lawmaker also spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday to corroborate Jo’s latest statement. “I am an acquaintance of Hyun Ki-hwan from the past,” she said. “But he didn’t accept my phone calls after he became a member of the nomination committee, and I felt a bit disappointed. So I asked Jo to help me and sent 500 million won through [my aide] Jung.”
The prosecution source said Jo and Representative Hyun changed their positions after the prosecution presented evidence to disprove their stories. Their telephone communication records, locations based on triangulation of the cell towers and Jo’s airplane records were reportedly presented during questioning, source said.
The prosecution said it is possible that Jo was lying because he pocketed the 300 million won. They also think there is a possibility that he was lying to protect Hyun Ki-hwan and other senior officials of the ruling party.
By Moon Byung-joo, Kim Ki-hwan [firstname.lastname@example.org]