Hong lays low a day before summons

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Hong lays low a day before summons

In October 1995, South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo dropped out of the prosecution at the age of 41.

“I wanted to wage a war once more against corrupt political power, and I regret that I could not achieve my dream,” he said at the time.

Hong was notorious in the 1980s and 1990s for digging into corruption perpetuated by prosecutors and political heavyweights. His story even inspired “Sandglass,” one of the country’s most popular dramas.

After 20 years, the lawmaker once again finds himself back at the prosecution ? the place that originally catapulted him to success ? but this time as a suspect in an unfolding payoff scandal involving a late construction tycoon.

The prosecution’s special investigation team said Wednesday that Hong was summoned to appear at the prosecution at 10 a.m. today. He is the first politician to be questioned in the case involving Sung Wan-jong, the former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises who claimed before his death to have given money to politicians in President Park Geun-hye’s inner circle for years.

Sung committed suicide on April 9 amid corruption allegations, leaving behind a note that listed the names of eight politicians next to what appeared to be the amount of illegal political funds he had paid to each of them.

Hong is alleged to have received 100 million won ($91,743) from Sung during his run in the race for chairman of the Grand National Party, the predecessor to the ruling Saenuri Party, on July 4, 2011. Prosecutors also plan to seek a pre-trial detention warrant for the South Gyeongsang governor, who they believe destroyed evidence.

Kim Hae-su, 58, the former presidential secretary for political affairs, was previously questioned by the prosecution over allegations that he pressured Yoon Seong-mo, the former vice president of Keangnam Enterprises.

Yoon testified earlier that he had personally delivered the money to Hong, and the prosecution reported to having acquired an audio recording of the phone call.

Hong took the day off from work on Thursday, presumably to prepare for the investigation today.

Hong’s chief secretary Jeong Jang-su said he did not know his superior’s whereabouts, an assertion that appeared to make prosecutors nervous.

“Questioning Hong won’t be easy, because he was famous for his investigative skills,” one of the prosecutors said. “We will try to prove his allegations with statements and evidence.”

Hong, who served for about 10 years as a prosecutor, cemented his reputation after he investigated a corruption case in 1988, involving the brother of President Chun Doo Hwan.

In his landmark 1993 “slot machine” case, he dug into corrupt connections between gangsters, prosecutors and politicians, which led to the arrest of Sports Minister Park Chul-un, one of the biggest political figures at the time.

BY KIM BAEK-KI, WE SUNG-WOOK AND KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]
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