Park puts focus on pardons in payoff scandal

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Park puts focus on pardons in payoff scandal


Park Geun-hye

President Park Geun-hye took direct aim at the main opposition party Tuesday by promising an investigation into special pardons given during the Roh Moo-hyun presidency to a late construction tycoon at the center of a massive payoff scandal.

On Tuesday, the eve of today’s National Assembly by-elections, Park addressed the scandal that has rocked the country for weeks and forced her own prime minister to quit - without mentioning the payoffs alleged to have been given to many of her key associates and to two of her presidential campaigns. Instead, Park questioned Roh’s two pardons of the tycoon-turned-politician and vowed to overhaul the practice of presidential amnesties.

The scandal erupted on April 9 when Sung Wan-jong, former head of Keangnam Enterprises, said in an interview that he had paid money to Park’s inner circle for years and then committed suicide. A list of Park allies were found in Sung’s pocket with dates and money amounts. Lee Wan-koo, who served as Park’s prime minister for only 70 days, was on the list. He stepped down from the post on Monday. Sung also claimed that his money was used in Park’s 2007 presidential primary campaign and 2012 presidential campaign.

In a message read by her press secretary, Park said it was unfortunate that she had to accept Lee’s resignation offer in order to minimize confusion in state affairs. “I feel regretful to have troubled the people with this issue,” Park said. She then raised questions about two special pardons that Sung had received during Roh’s presidency in 2005 and 2007, a move clearly intended to deflect attention from the allegations about her own inner circle.

Stressing that she has only given presidential pardons to a limited number of people whose livelihoods were at risk, Park said a national consensus is a must for a special pardon to be given to a businessman.

“But these two consecutive pardons are hard for the people to understand,” Park said. “It damages the rule of law and disturbs the country’s economy. Eventually, it served as an opportunity for today’s scandal.

“The truth must be laid bare about this issue and the problem needs to be mended systemically in order to improve our politics,” Park said.

After the liberal main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) attacked the integrity of the Park administration and the ruling Saenuri Party over the Sung scandal, the ruling party also raised suspicions that senior members of the NPAD were also bribed, and that’s why Sung was pardoned twice by Roh.

Sung was first convicted in 2002 of violating the political funding law for providing illegal money to the Chungcheong-based United Liberal Democrats party. He was pardoned on May 13, 2005. Sung’s second conviction came in November 2007 when he was found guilty of breach of trust for lending 12 billion won ($11 million) of company money, interest-free, to the developer of the Haengdamdo project. Just a month later, on Dec. 31, 2007, Sung was pardoned.

When Sung was first pardoned, Moon Jae-in, head of the NPAD and former opponent of Park in the 2012 presidential election, was serving as the civil affairs senior secretary for Roh. When Sung was pardoned in 2007 for the second time, Moon was Roh’s presidential chief of staff.

Promising to establish a new political culture by changing politics based on regionalism, school ties and personal networks and to root out layers of corruption, President Park said in the message that she is willing to accept an independent counsel investigation.

“The ruling and opposition parties should agree to arrange an independent counsel probe if the prosecution’s current investigation fails to answer all suspicions,” Park said. “If doubts linger, an independent counsel probe is understandably the way to go.”

The NPAD reacted furiously at Park’s message.

“The president should have issued a clearer apology,” Moon said Tuesday.

“She is the heart of this scandal and she is the beneficiary,” he said. “She should have apologized for the illegal political funds used by her associates and in her primary and presidential election campaigns. She should have also apologized for her repeated failures in appointments of top officials and the chaos created in the state affairs due to the botched appointments.”

“Although the scandal is about massive corruption involving herself, she didn’t even say a word about a fair investigation,” Moon said.

“It is also extremely unfortunate for Park to mention the allegations about the presidential pardons to conceal the core of this scandal,” Moon also said.

Last week, Moon held a press conference and claimed that not a single person in the Roh Blue House received dirty money in return for a presidential pardon.

NPAD spokesman Kim Young-rok said Park’s message, read by her press secretary, simply lacked sincerity.

“She didn’t even say a word about the unprecedented corruption of her closest aides,” Kim said.

“She is just trying to buy time by insisting on the prosecution’s investigation first and an independent counsel probe later because not one of the eight politicians mentioned on Sung’s list was summoned yet,” Kim said.

After Sung’s suicide, a list of eight names was found in his trouser pocket, most of whom were key members of Park’s 2012 presidential campaign.

“This scandal is about illegal money used in her own presidential campaign,” Kim said. “This is her own matter, but she is talking about it as if it was someone else’s business.”

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