Saenuri scandal has Park campaign at wits’ end

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Saenuri scandal has Park campaign at wits’ end

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From left : Hyun Ki-hwan, Lee Jung-hyun, Hyun Kyung-dae and Sohn Su-jo


As the widening investigation over the money-for-nomination scandal of the Saenuri Party reached more Park Geun-hye loyalists, the campaign of the conservatives’ presidential frontrunner was gripped by panic.

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The JoongAng Ilbo reported yesterday that Saenuri Representative Hyun Young-hee, accused of buying her nomination from a Park loyalist who was on the nomination committee for the April 11 legislative election, gave money to other politicians. Sohn Su-jo, a 27-year-old political rookie who ran against the Democratic United Party’s giant Moon Jae-in, was among those who allegedly received Hyun’s money, the newspaper said.

According to a source with information on the case, 1.35 million won ($1,197) of Sohn’s campaign funds was suspected of coming from Hyun. The National Election Commission included the allegation among other charges when it handed over the case to the prosecution, the source said.

The Busan District Prosecutors’ Office questioned Jung Dong-geun, a former aide to Hyun and the whistleblower in the scandal, about the new allegation involving Sohn.

It also planned to summon Sohn for questioning. “No matter how small is the amount, we have to question the suspect,” a Busan prosecutor said.

While Sohn ran in the Sasang District of Busan and lost, Hyun, who has strong ties with the local community, was elected as a proportional representative of the Saenuri Party. Despite her defeat, Sohn continued her political career as the head of the Saenuri Party’s young generation committee.

Sohn was an icon of reform for the Saenuri Party under Park’s leadership. She became a star for her low-cost campaign against the DUP’s political heavyweight Moon and Park personally supported Sohn’s campaign.

The prosecution also expanded its investigation into other Park loyalists on charges of receiving up to 5 million won of illegal political donations from Hyun. Representative Lee Jung-hyun and former Representative Hyun Kyung-dae, key associates of Park, faced suspicions, but they both denied the charges. The prosecution also applied for a warrant yesterday to detain Jo Gi-mun, a former public relations head of the Saenuri Party’s Busan chapter, on charges of violating the election law. Jo was accused of receiving 300 million won from Hyun to help her win the nomination. Jo was suspected of giving the money to Hyun Ki-hwan, a Park loyalist who was on the nomination committee at the time, but he has denied the charges.

As more and more Park associates were linked to the scandal, concerns grew that her presidential campaign will suffer serious damage. A key member of Park’s campaign said yesterday that the presidential front-runner should make a bold move to stop the scandal from ruining her chances.

“Whether the accusations were true or not, Park needs to think about if it is possible to continue her campaign with the people who were named in the scandal. She has to think about conducting a reshuffle in her camp,” Lee Sang-don, a senior member of Park’s campaign, told the SBS radio yesterday.

The scandal already appeared to put a damper on Park’s campaign. In the Realmeter daily poll, Park was leading the two-way race against liberal Ahn Cheol-soo last week, but she was outrun by Ahn yesterday. In Friday’s poll, Park was backed by 48.2 percent, while Ahn was supported by 44.8 percent. But in Wednesday’s poll, Park’s rating went down to 44 percent, allowing Ahn to take the lead with 47.4 percent.


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

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