Justice minister declares far-reaching graft probe

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Justice minister declares far-reaching graft probe

Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong called on the prosecution to launch a far-reaching investigation targeting corruption in the public sector in a strong display of government resolve to tighten its grip on national affairs.

Appointed in July by President Park Geun-hye, Kim demanded that prosecutors prioritize investigations on structural industry irregularities and corruption that could damage the state’s financial stability and waste tax money.

He also signaled that prosecutors would not hesitate in the coming months to target politicians accused of taking bribes and urged authorities to cooperate with relevant government agencies to root out corruption.

The prosecutor-turned-minister instructed prosecutors to find and punish those exploiting small and midsize size companies by taking advantage of an unfair playing field, undermining the country’s economic growth.

Kim’s remarks were interpreted as the Park Geun-hye administration’s willingness to strengthen its control over national affairs as it enters the second half of the president’s five-year term through corruption probes that could entangle current and former lawmakers.

Launching a wide-scale investigation into political corruption has long been a tactic favored by the presidential office to run national affairs under its agenda.

It was expected the Park administration would soon follow suit, particularly after she named Hwang Kyo-an, a former prosecutor and justice minister, as prime minister earlier this year.

The fact that the Justice Ministry added seven prosecutors in its latest reshuffle to a special investigation team at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is also seen to be part of moves by the ministry to renew its push toward eradicating graft across the public and private sectors.

The investigative body on Tuesday summoned Chung Joon-yang, the former Posco chairman, to come for questioning on Thursday over suspicions concerning irregular business deals on certain mergers and acquisitions, slush funds and tax evasion during his term from 2009 to 2014 at the country’s No. 1 steelmaker.

Lawmakers are also expected to be called soon.

Prosecutors have already detained independent lawmaker Park Ki-choon, who left the opposition over graft allegations, on suspicions that he took more than 300 million won ($254,560) from a local construction businessman in exchange for wielding his influence.

Rep. Kim Han-gill, former chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, and six-term lawmaker Rhee In-je, could be summoned for questioning in coming days over their connections to the late business tycoon Sung Wan-jong, the former chairman of troubled Keangnam Enterprises.

Sung committed suicide in April amid an investigations into accusations that he bribed influential politicians for years from both the ruling and opposition parties.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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