Nominee says she warned conservatives about sex party allegationsTop politicians from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), including chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn, knew about a sex scandal involving a vice minister in the Park Geun-hye administration when they were in key posts, prominent lawmakers and police have disclosed.
Rep. Park Young-sun of the ruling Democratic Party made a bombshell revelation about Hwang Wednesday during her confirmation hearing to head the Ministry of SMEs and Startups. Park said she personally informed Hwang in 2013 of suspicions about Kim Hak-eui, who was about to be named vice justice minister.
Kim was appointed to the job on March 13, 2013. He stepped down on March 21 following allegations that he attended parties thrown by a contractor who hired women to have sex with high-profile figures to gain business favors.
The scandal evolved into a drug-and-rape case when a woman claimed that she had been drugged, raped and videotaped by both Kim and the contractor, yet Kim never faced any criminal charges.
This week, the Moon Jae-in administration said it will reopen an investigation into the sex-for-favor charges and allegations that senior members of the Park government killed the initial probe.
“Days before Kim was named vice minister, Justice Minister Hwang came to the National Assembly and I asked to meet him separately,” Park said. Hwang was the minister of justice from March 2013 until May 2015, and Park was chairwoman of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee at the time.
“I presented him with a CD containing videos that I had obtained from an informant,” Park said. “I told Hwang that I saw the videos and that they were very serious, and that serious trouble would come if Kim was appointed vice minister.
“I also told Hwang that although I was an opposition lawmaker, I was entrusting him with earnest advice for the sake of the country’s advancement,” Park said. She added that the conversation took place in her office as committee chairwoman at the National Assembly.
In the confirmation hearing, Park was actually defending herself from an opposition lawmaker’s question about the scandal. Rep. Lee Yong-ju of the Party for Democracy and Peace asked Park about her tenure as chairwoman of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee. He asked why a proper investigation into Kim hadn’t been conducted and whether Kim was protected by anyone. He also asked whether Kim granted any favors to the host of the sex parties.
Park’s remarks prompted immediate reactions. “This is groundless,” said Hwang, who served as justice minister and later prime minister during the Park presidency. “I have never seen such a CD.”
Hwang was elected chairman of the LKP in February.
“Chairman Hwang made clear that he had never seen such a CD and that he had never had such a conversation with Park,” said Rep. Min Kyung-wook, spokesman of the party. “Her remark is a unilateral accusation that doesn’t deserve any further response.”
Another senior lawmaker, however, backed Park up on Thursday. “I really don’t want to join this [controversy], but I remember that Park had called me at the time,” Rep. Park Jie-won of the Party for Democracy and Peace said in an interview with TBS radio. “She told me with laughter that she had told Minister Hwang about [Kim’s sex party CD], and that Hwang had blushed.”
Police sources also told the JoongAng Ilbo that the Park Geun-hye Blue House was aware of problems involving Kim at the time of the appointment. A former senior police official who was in charge of Kim’s case at the time told the JoongAng Ilbo that multiple reports were made to the Blue House.
“A senior official of the National Police Agency and several police officers who actually handled the investigation went to the Blue House and gave a number of briefings,” the source said. He said the investigators had reported to him after their visits to the presidential office.
Kim Ki-yong, a former police commissioner who was abruptly replaced during the investigation in 2013, told JTBC on Tuesday that the allegations about Kim were reported to the Blue House in multiple occasions.
Rep. Kwak Sang-do of the LKP, who was senior civil affairs secretary of the Blue House, rejected the police’s argument. “I was aware of the video, so I inquired with the police,” Kwak told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday. “But the police said they were not pursuing any probe.”
He challenged the police assertions. “They keep saying they reported to the Blue House, but I need to know when they did and to whom they gave the briefing,” Kwak said. “The senior civil affairs secretary’s office never summoned a senior police official, and not all reports to the Blue House come to that office.”
Kwak also said the police briefed him about Kim’s scandal only after the appointment was made public. “If the police told us they had evidence before the appointment, it would have been looked into,” Kwak said.
After Kim stepped down just eight days after his appointment, Kwak and his office at the Blue House were criticized for having failed to properly vet the nominee. The Blue House said at the time that the office was aware of the allegations because Kim was a senior prosecutor, but the police said until the day of his appointment that it had no ongoing probe against him.
The police first detected suspicions about Kim in November 2012, but only started gathering facts on March 18, 2013, five days after Kim’s appointment.
Under the normal procedure, if the intelligence bureau of the police detects a suspicion about an individual, initial inquiries are made before an official probe begins. To initiate initial inquiries, evidence is required.
Prosecutors will form a special investigation team to reinvestigate the scandal. Minister of Justice Park Sang-ki told the National Assembly Wednesday that he had consulted with the prosecutor-general on how to proceed and a decision was made to create a special investigation team.
BY SER MYO-JA, Lee TAE-YUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]