Lingering suspicions

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Lingering suspicions

South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo was sentenced to 18 months in jail Thursday, part of a massive payoff scandal involving a number of political heavyweights who allegedly received money from Sung Wan-jong, former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises and a former ruling party lawmaker, who last year committed suicide. He left behind a note that implicated eight high-profile politicians including Hong.

Considering that former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo was convicted of receiving money from Sung in the same scandal, Hong being found guilty of the same charge increases the possibility that the so-called Sung Wan-jong List meant exactly what it said.

The Seoul Central District Court yesterday said it recognized Hong’s taking of 100 million won ($91,617) from the business tycoon-turned-politician. Hong had been accused of violating the Political Funding Law by taking the money in cash from a former vice president of his company at his National Assembly office in June 2011. The court explained that it could acknowledge the credibility of statements by the vice president and others in regard to the case as Sung had said in a telephone interview shortly before his suicide that he instructed his vice president to deliver the money to Hong ahead of the election of the chairman of the ruling Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party).

Thursday’s ruling owed much to the vice president’s testimony that he delivered the cash to Hong on his boss’ instructions. In fact, the judges said that the vice president was not likely to cook up a story. That is in sharp contrast with the former prime minister’s case in which his conviction depended on whether to accept Sung’s suicide note as evidence. The court’s verdicts in both Hong’s and Lee’s cases are not yet final, as appeals will be made.

Nevertheless, the guilty rulings for such political bigwigs increasingly point to the veracity of the Sung Wan-jong List, which includes three former presidential chief of staff — Kim Ki-choon, Huh Tae-yeol and Lee Byung-kee — and Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok, Saenuri Party lawmaker Hong Moon-jong and Busan City Mayor Suh Byung-soo.

Among them, only two — both Hong and Lee — have been found guilty on criminal charges, with the remaining six exempted from punishment thanks to the expiration of the statute of limitations or a lack of evidence. We cannot help but ask if the court reached such a decision because of a need to avoid the prosecution’s investigations of political funding of the last presidential election or due to political stature of the six. The prosecution must answer that question without dragging their feet.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 9, Page 30
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