Roh tells counsel to end its work by tomorrowPresident Roh Moo-hyun yesterday said he would not extend the independent counsel’s inquiry of the cash-for-summit scandal and related bribery allegations past tomorrow.
The opposition Grand National Party, which control’s Korea’s National Assembly, said it would respond by offering a bill to create a new independent counsel to continue the probe. Party leaders said they would also block legislation desired by the administration.
“The suspicions concerning the 15 billion won ($12.5 million) are a separate case, legally and politically,” Mr. Roh said at a Blue House meeting. He was referring to charges that the Kim Dae-jung administration’s culture minister in 2000, Park Jie-won, received that amount in addition to the much larger sums of money he is charged with funneling to North Korea. Those cash payments probably violated reporting laws on dealings with the North, and are also suspected of being an inducement for the North to stage the 2000 inter-Korean summit meeting.
Mr. Roh did not say which agency he thought should lead further investigations into the 15-billion-won payment allegedly made to Mr. Park. The president suggested that the matter could be handled either by the prosecution or by a separate independent counsel.
The additional allegations of black cash surfaced near the end of the 70-day investigation of the cash-for-summit matter by the counsel. A former Hyundai senior manager said the business group gave the money to Mr. Park in a Seoul hotel; Mr. Park denied the allegation. The counsel’s request for an extension of its mandate, it said, was to allow it to pursue that matter, although supporters of former President Kim Dae-jung’s North Korean policies fear that the counsel might try to examine his personal role in the transactions. The counsel has said it had no such intention; it said that in addition to looking further into the new bribery allegations, it wanted more time to question Hyundai and government officials and needed additional time to prepare the legal cases against those already indicted.
Mr. Roh said that he would be keeping an eye on the National Assembly’s reaction, and criticism was not long in coming. The Grand National Party leader, Park Hee-tae, said, “President Roh is stepping all over the public. We will carry on an all-out struggle.” Other party officials said they would submit a new independent counsel bill stronger than the first, perhaps on Tuesday. The party’s floor leader, Rhee Q-taek, said, “We are aiming for its passage on July 1, when the regular session opens.” The opposition holds 153 seats in the 273-member legislative body.
The opposition also threatened to stall legislation such as the controversial free trade agreement with Chile, although opposition by farmers has already made legislators view that agreement as a hot potato, and legislation to set up a work permit system for foreign workers here.
Former President Kim Dae-jung reacted noncommittally when he was told of the president’s decision to end the counsel’s work, an aide to Mr. Kim said.
by Choi Hoon
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