In payoff scandal, prosecution’s laxity criticized

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In payoff scandal, prosecution’s laxity criticized

The prosecution’s lack of enthusiasm in questioning top politicians and officials over the graft allegations facing them has fueled criticism among those close to the investigation.

Six influential politicians accused of receiving political funds from the late Sung Wan-jong, a construction tycoon who formerly served as the chairman to Keangnam Enterprises, recently received written inquiries from the prosecution’s special investigation team, but no substantial questions were included, sources said.

According to the prosecution, the special investigation team assigned to the scandal sent written inquiries to six people on Friday.

Inquiries were sent to President Park Geun-hye’s Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee, and both his predecessors, Huh Tae-yeol and Kim Ki-choon.

Saenuri Party Rep. Hong Moon-jong, Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo and Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok also received letters from the prosecution.

Sung, a former businessman and politician, was found hanged from a tree on Mount Bukhan on April 9 in an apparent suicide. A memo listing eight people, including the six men, was found in his trousers pocket, and monetary sums were written next to each of those names.

South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo and former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, who resigned from his post following snowballing accusations, were also implicated on the list.

The prosecution questioned Hong and Lee over the past few weeks, later indicting them on graft charges, and investigators are currently questioning the other six men through written inquiries.

All the remaining figures are key allies to President Park, with some having served in top posts ? charged with managing her election funds, in particular ? during her 2012 presidential campaign.

An aide to one of the six men told the JoongAng Ilbo that the written inquiries did not include substantial questions linked to the payoff scandal.

“The questions mainly concerned when [the suspect] had become acquainted with Sung and how deep their relationship was,” the source said. “It also asked whether or not he had received money from Sung.”

The prosecution also sent written requests to the six men, asking them to submit any documents they wished. No mandate was made for them to provide financial records.

Likewise, it also failed to request that Rep. Hong, whom Sung claimed he paid 200 million won ($179,752) on the eve of the presidential election, hand over his bank records, nor has it begun to look into the bank accounts of the six men.

“The written inquiries are not the end of this investigation,” said a member on the special investigation team. “We sent inquiries to them so that they can answer a number of questions. We gave them opportunities to provide as much explanation as they want.”

The prosecution added that it will review the answers and then decide whether it will further continue its investigation.

At the same time, speculation has arisen in the legal community that the prosecution’s handling of the case hints at its intention to wrap up the probe without further questioning.

“Written questions are often a step toward the decision to drop the case,” one former prosecutor said, because it’s hard to secure evidence through such questioning. “Because they are not forced to answer the questions, it will just be a formality.”

BY KIM BAEK-KI [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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