Opposition lawmakers face questions over bribery allegations

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Opposition lawmakers face questions over bribery allegations

Prosecutors are investigating whether three opposition lawmakers received illegal bribes from the head of a vocational school in exchange for influence-peddling and will soon bring the three for questioning.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office reported Monday that it will soon summon Representatives Shin Geh-ryoon, Kim Jae-yun and Shin Hak-yong for questioning over suspicions that they received up to 70 million won ($67,980) from Kim Min-sung, who runs Seoul Art College, a vocational school for aspiring entertainers.

The announcement comes as another harsh blow for the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) just days after stunning defeats in the July 30 by-elections.

Prosecutors said on Monday that they notified both Shin and Kim to come to the prosecutors’ office for questioning by the end of this week. The two face allegations that they received between 60 and 70 million won in kickbacks from Seoul Art College in exchange for providing special treatment.

Representative Shin is accused of taking 10 million won from the school president. According to investigators, the three lawmakers are suspected of taking bribes from the school’s president to push forward a revision to a law concerning vocational schools.

Through the revision, which the trio helped move through the Assembly, Kim’s school was able to drop “vocational” from its official name last year and promote the institution as Seoul Arts College - thought to sound more attractive to prospective students.

On its homepage, Seoul Arts College boasts of the K-pop stars who have passed through its halls, such as members of the group EXO and 2PM.

The prosecutors already heard testimony from Kim that he paid the three lawmakers, requesting the revision be passed. However, the three opposition politicians have all denied the allegations against them and have gone so far as to call the investigation “politically motivated.”

The prosecutors’ investigation into the three opposition lawmakers is an implication that its probe into specific graft cases may likely widen, possibly including more lawmakers across party lines or even Blue House officials.

Two Saenuri lawmakers have also been notified to appear at the prosecutors’ office on charges that they allegedly received hundreds of million of won in kickbacks from various businessmen.

The prosecution suspects that Saenuri lawmaker Cho Hyun-yong took bribes from Sampyo E&C, a railway track manufacturing company and component supplier, in return for directing contracts to the company while he was chairman of the Korea Rail Network Authority (KRNA) from August 2008 to August 2011.

He is also suspected of accepting bribes even after he was elected as a lawmaker in April 2012. As an assemblyman, he has been a member of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee, the oversight body of the KRNA.

The prosecution is looking into alleged bribery by Park Sang-eun after his chauffeur tipped off the authorities in June about 30 million won in cash, saying it might be an illegal political slush fund. Another 600 million won in cash was later found in a search of Park’s son’s house. Park insisted the money was acquired from his former job.

While the ruling Saenuri Party stated it will fully cooperate with the prosecutors’ investigation, the NPAD has come to the rescue of its three lawmakers, raising questions over the motive behind the investigation.

The opposition suspects the prosecution is trying to divert public attention from the two Saenuri lawmakers implicated in graft scandals and to make the prosecution appear politically impartial. If the alleged graft charges against the three lawmakers are substantiated, the NPAD’s credibility would be dealt yet another blow.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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