Payoff probe leads to Park’s campaign fund

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Payoff probe leads to Park’s campaign fund

Prosecutors involved in an investigation into an extensive payoff scandal prompted by the death of an influential construction tycoon have shifted their attention toward bribery allegations around President Park Geun-hye’s 2012 election campaign despite scant evidence.

Claiming that he had become a scapegoat in a fight between the Park administration and her predecessor Lee Myung-bak over the latter’s questionable resources diplomacy initiative, the former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises, Sung Wan-jong, committed suicide on April 9 during a corruption investigation.

Just hours before his death, he revealed to a local media outlet that he had paid top politicians close to Park for years and that some of the money had been used to fund her two presidential bids. He was later found hanging from a tree branch on Mount Bukhan with a note on his body listing the names of eight politicians to whom he had allegedly given money.

Recent testimony from former aides close to Sung, however, has now shone a new a light on officials related to Park’s 2012 election committee.

Regarding the late businessman’s supposed money dealings, Han Jang-seob, the former CFO of Keangnam Enterprises who is thought to have been Sung’s safe keeper, told the prosecution that the late businessman ordered him to hand over 200 million won ($185,000) to a senior deputy spokesman surnamed Kim, who was part of the ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential election committee in 2012.

In an interview shortly before his death, Sung claimed that he gave 200 million won in 2012 to Saenuri lawmaker Hong Moon-jong, the organizing chief of the election committee.

Given that statement, the prosecution believes the money forwarded by Han was likely passed onto Hong, who was one of the eight politicians on Sung’s list. The prosecution, however, has not ruled out that it may have been a separate contribution for the presidential election. Han earlier testified that he only delivered the money to Kim, but that he did not know how the money was used or where it went.

Kim, the senior deputy spokesman, has denied the allegation.

“I’ve seen other aides to Sung, but I don’t really remember Han,” Kim told JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. “I may have seen him once or twice in the Chungcheong forum [where politicians of Chungcheong area gathered together], but I have never seen him in person for money.”

Hong denied any involvement in the scandal following Sung’s death, arguing that he would retire from the political circle if he had “received even a penny from Sung.”

Han additionally testified that he had given the money to Kim in Sung’s office at the construction company’s headquarters in eastern Seoul, and the prosecution is currently looking at CCTV footage from around the building as well as any financial transactions made by the company around the time of the alleged payoff. Prosecutors plan to summon Kim for questioning soon.

But despite Han’s statement, authorities still lack evidence to forward any concrete charges in the investigation. President Park, meanwhile, who returned to work this week following a brief illness, again emphasized political reform in spite of recent revelations as she presided over a meeting with her senior secretaries on Monday at the Blue House.

“Politicians ... go against the public’s needs when they pursue personal honor and benefits,” she said. “[This case] must be an opportunity for us to initiate political reform to eliminate those corruptions.”

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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