People’s officials sought kickbacks

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People’s officials sought kickbacks

In requesting government reimbursement for campaign spending, People’s Party officials inflated the amount spent in order to receive kickbacks, the JoongAng Ilbo learned Thursday from an audit report by the nation’s election watchdog.

According to the record of the National Election Commission (NEC) on the campaign reimbursement for the April 13 general election, the election watchdog concluded that the People’s Party made a request for the reimbursement of campaign promotion materials, which was inflated by 515 million won ($438,559). The commission, therefore, offered only partial reimbursement.

The materials were planned and designed by Brand Hotel, a design start-up company founded by Rep. Kim Su-min, a newly elected proportional representative of the People’s Party.

Kim and other senior party officials are being investigated by the prosecution on charges of receiving some 238 million won in kickbacks from advertisement companies during the April 13 general elections. The scandal has tainted the integrity of the third largest political party of Ahn Cheol-soo, which won 38 seats on promises of changing the way politics are done in Korea.

According to the record obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo, the People’s Party filed an application to the NEC to reimburse a total of 4.04 billion won for its election campaign spending, including about 2.11 billion won for campaign promotion materials.

But the NEC only reimbursed about 1.59 billion won, because an audit showed that the party’s bills for print materials were inflated by about 515 million won.

Before reimbursing the party’s campaign spending, the NEC asked the Korea Price Research Center to survey the market prices of campaign expenses, including the price for its print materials.

“When a party makes a mistake of seeking reimbursements for illegal campaign activities, we reject the requests,” an official of the NEC said. “But we cut the 515 million won of the People’s Party’s bill because the items exceeded the normal market prices.”

The NEC also slashed the reimbursement requests of the Saenuri Party and the Minjoo Party for their print materials, although the sums rejected were smaller.

The Saenuri Party sought about 1.92 billion won for its print materials, 265 million won of which was rejected. The Minjoo Party sought 1.89 billion won for its print materials, 246 million won of which was rejected.

An NEC official told the JoongAng Ilbo, “We obtained testimony from a company that Rep. Park Sun-sook, then secretary general of the party, and Wang Ju-hyeon, her deputy, demanded kickbacks by inflating the bill. We clearly stated the testimony in our request to the prosecution to investigate the case.”

According to the official, the People’s Party officials requested about 200 million won in kickbacks.

The Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office launched an investigation into the scandal earlier this month at the request of the NEC. It summoned Wang Thursday for questioning. “The key of our investigation is verifying the NEC’s petition,” said a prosecution source.

As he appeared for questioning, Wang said that he had never demanded kickbacks. Asked why no bidding took place to decide which companies would work for the campaign, Wang said, “we were in a rush at the time and we had no time to issue a bidding notice and wait, so I recommended companies that had worked with political parties before or companies that are known.”

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

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