Opposition threatens independent probe into payoff scandal

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Opposition threatens independent probe into payoff scandal

The main opposition party warned Wednesday that it would introduce an independent counsel to investigate a group of top politicians close to President Park Geun-hye over a massive payoff scandal involving a late construction tycoon due to the prosecution’s lack of enthusiasm.

Sung Wan-jong, the former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises, upended the political establishment in April following his apparent suicide amid a corruption investigation.

The businessman and former politician was found hanging from a tree on Mount Bukhan with a note in his trouser pocket listing the names of eight influential men, next to what appeared to be monetary sums he is alleged to have paid to some of them.

Those included current and former presidential chiefs of staff as well as former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo.

Moon Jae-in, the chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), criticized the prosecution Wednesday for failing to provide answers over allegations surrounding “the corruption of powerful people,” as well as suspicions around the president’s election campaign funds two months after Sung’s death.

“If the prosecution’s investigation ends in a vague conclusion, I have to warn that we will need to appoint an independent counsel,” he said.

Moon, the former presidential candidate for the opposition in 2012, whom Park narrowly defeated, also accused prosecutors of conducting a lukewarm investigation.

“Once again, the prosecution has sided with the power, not the people,” he said. “Our party won’t tolerate that.”

Hours before his death, Sung conducted an interview with a local newspaper in which he claimed that he had given money to a wide range of politicians, government officials and journalists, and some of the people he mentioned were key members of Park’s presidential campaign.

While the prosecution has since summoned and questioned Lee, who stepped down from his post as prime minister because of the evolving scandal, and South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo, lawmakers and observers have lambasted its laxity in directly targeting the president’s confidants.

On Monday, Saenuri Rep. Hong Moon-jong was quietly summoned to the prosecution, where he was questioned about Sung’s claim that he had given about 200 million won ($178,811) in cash to the lawmaker, who served as the organizing chief of Park’s campaign in the 2012 presidential election.

Sung claimed the funds went to the campaign, while Hong has denied having taken any money from Sung.

Lee Jong-kul, the NPAD floor leader, also criticized the prosecution on Wednesday.

“While the entire nation is fighting a war against MERS [Middle East respiratory syndrome], the prosecution is trying to drop the case concerning Park’s election funds,” he said. “They must not use a national crisis to cover up the campaign fund scandal.”

Lee also criticized prosecutors for giving special treatment to Park loyalists.

“When they investigate politicians from the opposition or uninfluential people from the ruling party, they act as if they are hunting dogs,” he said. “But in the face of Park’s loyalists, they act like shy cats.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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