Kim denies taking any kickbacks

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Kim denies taking any kickbacks

A young proportional representative of the People’s Party who is under investigation for allegedly receiving illegal political funds said Tuesday that she did not misappropriate any money, but she refused to elaborate on whether the money was used for the party’s campaign.

The National Election Commission asked the prosecution to investigate Rep. Kim Su-min for alleged election law violations. Kim, 29, was in charge of public relations for the newly emerged centrist political party of Ahn Cheol-soo. She was accused of receiving some 238 million won ($203,059) in kickbacks from advertisement companies during the April 13 general elections. The Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office subsequently launched a probe last week.

“I will faithfully cooperate with the investigation to lay bare the truth,” the youngest lawmaker in the newly elected National Assembly said Tuesday. She talked briefly to the press after attending a lecture at the National Assembly on inter-Korean issues.

When asked how the money was spent, Kim remained tightlipped but said she did not embezzle any money for her own gain.

Kim refused to say if she was consulting with Rep. Park Sun-sook, a veteran politician of the People’s Party and a senior official of the general election campaign, about the scandal. Park was also being investigated by the prosecution.

Kim also did not say if she will resign from her post as lawmaker after suspicions were raised concerning how Kim secured her candidacy. The party announced on March 23 that Kim will be seventh place on its list, although she did not apply for candidacy. The People’s Party produced 13 proportional representatives including Kim at the April 13 election.

Sources of the People’s Party said the party leadership decided to nominate Kim in a rush, without a proper vetting process. After the party’s attempt to recruit young entrepreneurs failed, the party offered Kim the candidacy, they said. Ahn recruited Kim, the daughter of a politician and the founder of the start-up design company Brand Hotel, and other party leaders including co-chairman Chun Jung-bae agreed to the nomination on March 22, on the eve of the candidacy announcement.

Although Kim resigned from Brand Hotel after the nomination, the company was accused of receiving kickbacks from a printing firm and a broadcast marketing company, without having offered any services during the campaign.

The scandal severely tainted the image of the People’s Party, which won 38 seats in the April general election based on its promise of a new way of doing politics. Ahn, head of the party and a presidential contender, tried to distance himself from the scandal on Tuesday, as his approval rating dropped.

Asked if the party’s fact-finding team will investigate Kim’s nomination process, Ahn only said, “The team will make its own decision.”

Other senior politicians of the People’s Party tried to salvage the party’s disgraced integrity. In an interview with CBS radio, Rep. Lee Sang-don, head of the fact-finding team, said Kim’s company made an honest mistake. “It was a mistake that no contracts were signed with the two companies,” Lee said, “and we tried to cope with the situation too late, after the National Election Commission pointed the problems out, and that just fueled the scandal.”

He also said there was no evidence that the money went to the party, stressing that the alleged kickbacks are still with Kim’s company, Brand Hotel.

Lee also defended the party’s nomination of Kim. “Although we could not hold a meeting because it was on the eve of the election,” Lee said, “the leadership completed all necessary processes and there is no fault because a strategic nomination is allowed for proportional candidates.”

“The situation is misleading,” he said, “but it all happened because a newly formed political party was rushing to do things on the eve of the election.”

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

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