Key witness keeps mum in nonprofit foundation probe

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Key witness keeps mum in nonprofit foundation probe

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Lee Seung-cheol, vice chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, appears on Wednesday before the Strategy and Finance Committee’s audit of the controversial fundraising activities of the Mi-R Foundation and K-Sports Foundation. [NEWSIS]

Opposition lawmakers had a fruitless day at the National Assembly audit on Wednesday as a key witness from the nation’s largest business lobby remained tight-lipped about the scandal involving two nonprofit foundations, powerful associates of the president and conglomerates.

Vice Chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) Lee Seung-cheol appeared before the Strategy and Finance Committee’s audit of the controversial fundraising activities of the Mi-R Foundation and K-Sports Foundation. Lee oversaw the creation and fundraising of the two scandal-ridden projects.

The Mi-R Foundation was launched last October to encourage cultural exchange and support companies involved in cultural products. The K-Sports Foundation was opened last January to promote Korean sports. Within two days of its launch, the Mi-R collected 48.6 billion won ($43.9 million) from 19 conglomerates, including Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK and LG groups. The K-Sports raised 38 billion won within six days of its launch.

Speculations were high that An Chong-bum, presidential senior secretary for policy coordination, strong-armed conglomerates to make massive contributions, while Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend of President Park Geun-hye, was accused of using her influence in the creation and operation of the foundations. Following the scandal, the FKI said it will dismantle them and create a new foundation. The move, however, was suspected as being an attempt to destroy any evidence.

“Where did you get the idea [of creating the foundations]?” Rep. Park Young-sun of the Minjoo Party of Korea asked Lee. “How often do you talk to An over the phone? Is the vice chairman of the FKI such a powerful position that conglomerates willingly make massive contributions, as if it were a tax payment?”

Rep. Park Joo-hyun of the People’s Party also grilled Lee about his claim that the Blue House was not behind the creation of the two foundations. “Recently, the chairman of the Korea Employers Federation said in a conference that the ankles of conglomerates were twisted through the FKI. Who ordered the FKI to twist their ankles?”

Lee, however, dodged almost all the questions, although he apologized to the public for having stirred up controversy. “I cannot speak for the case because the prosecution’s investigation is currently ongoing,” he said.

As he repeatedly used the prosecution’s probe as an excuse to not answer questions, opposition lawmakers strongly criticized him for insulting the legislature. “There must be someone powerful behind Lee,” Rep. Park Young-sun said, “or he thinks he is such a powerful person, otherwise it is impossible for him to give such a response. We are asking about the people’s suspicions, but he is refusing to answer because of the prosecution’s investigation. This is the typical symbol of corrupt power.”

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

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