Sung payoff probe now crosses the political aisle

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Sung payoff probe now crosses the political aisle

Prosecutors are set to widen their investigation into a bribery scandal set off by a 56-word memo found inside the trouser pocket of a businessman-turned-legislator who committed suicide, looking deeper into entrenched corruption implicating lawmakers across party lines.

An aggressive move by the prosecutors’ special investigation team into the so-called Sung Wan-jong-gate affair, named for the man who hanged himself on April 9, comes as evidence continues to emerge that the former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises might have bribed politicians on both sides of the aisle.

The prosecutors’ special investigative team is primarily targeting eight political heavyweights that include two former presidential chief of staffs and Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, who were on a list found in Sung’s pocket after he killed himself. The scandal has the potential to weaken the Park Geun-hye administration to the extent of making it a lame-duck government in its third year in office.

Suspicions that Sung tried to curry favor from politicians regardless of party affiliation emerged as Rep. Park Soo-hyun of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) confessed in a Facebook posting that he had received donations from the late businessman on several occasions under the name of a third party.

It has also been revealed that Sung had lunch or dinner appointments with over 230 lawmakers, including bigwigs such as former chairman Kim Han-gil of the NPAD between August 2013 and his death earlier this month.

When asked Friday whether the prosecutors have requested information on political donations to lawmakers from the National Election Commission to find traces of illicit funds from Sung, Moon Moo-il, chief prosecutor of the special team, did not deny it had, saying the team is trying to “collect related evidence through various channels.”

Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo is under heavy pressure from the opposition to resign for his alleged acceptance of illicit campaign funds from Sung. He said on Tuesday during a parliamentary hearing that he understood Sung had “made many donations to his fellow lawmakers” in what many saw as a warning towards lawmakers calling for his resignation.

Under the political funding law, receiving donations in the name of a third party is not subject to legal punishment unless the money is intended to purchase specific favors.

Moon Jae-in, Chairman of the NPAD, continued slamming the Park government and the ruling Saenuri Party Sunday over the scandal.

“While the livelihoods of ordinary people are crumbling, a stinging smell of corruption is rampant among the top echelon of the government,” said the former challenger to President Park in the 2012 presidential race.

Moon claimed the alleged corruption indicated by Sung’s memo is related to Park’s campaign funds in 2012 and questions the integrity of the government.

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

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