Scandal implicates 2012 Park campaignThe graft scandal surrounding a businessman, who committed suicide after revealing he gave money to top politicians for years, has touched President Park Geun-hye after a newspaper reported the cash was used to help fund her election campaign in 2012.
As the prosecution created a special investigation team Sunday to probe the snowballing bribery scandal involving top members of the administration and ruling party, including those who played key roles in Park’s election campaign, the president said she also wants a thorough investigation into the allegations.
“The prosecution must handle the case sternly based on laws and principles,” she was quoted as saying by presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook. “There should be no sacred ground.”
It was Park’s first response to the explosive scandal that threatens the very foundation of her administration’s integrity. Sung Wan-jong, former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises, talked to the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper for about 50 minutes shortly before his death on Thursday to disclose his money dealings with politicians.
An apparent bribery list, containing the names of eight top politicians, including former and current presidential chiefs of staff and the current prime minister, was found on his body.
Seven of the eight also worked for Park’s presidential election campaign in 2012.
Following its initial report Friday targeting graft allegations against two former chiefs of staff, the Kyunghyang Shinmun reported Saturday that Sung said he paid 200 million won ($182,849) to Hong Moon-jong, a Saenuri Party lawmaker who worked as organization chief for Park’s presidential campaign. Sung also linked the money to her campaign fund.
In an excerpt from an audio file of the interview released by the newspaper, Sung said he gave 200 million won to Hong during the 2012 campaign because Hong was the chief manager for organization. “I gave him cash,” Sung said.
Asked if he remembered where he gave Hong the money, Sung said they shared a campaign office. Sung also said he was well acquainted with Hong’s father. “Hong wouldn’t have used the money for himself,” Sung said. “He used it for the presidential election. He is not someone who would pocket the money for himself.”
Sung also told the newspaper he paid 100 million won to South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo in 2011 when he was running for the Saenuri Party chairmanship. He said he funneled the money through an aide for Hong.
In the interview, Sung said he gave the money with no strings attached. “But now I feel betrayed,” he said. “I asked for nothing, even during the merger [of the Saenuri Party and the Advancement and Unification Party]. Did I ask for a minister post? Did I ask for a job?”
Sung, a construction tycoon from South Chungcheong, entered politics in 2012 by winning a National Assembly seat representing Seosan, his hometown, and Taean in South Chungcheong on the ticket of the conservative Advancement and Unification Party based in the province. It later merged with the Saenuri Party and Sung became a lawmaker of Park’s ruling party, but he lost his seat last June because of election law violations.
He was a prime target of the prosecution’s investigation into the overseas resources diplomacy project of the Lee Myung-bak administration and has complained that he was not a Lee associate, but became a political scapegoat. In a press conference on the eve of his suicide, Sung insisted he had put every ounce of his energy into Park’s presidential victory in 2012.
The latest revelation in the interview appeared to match the paper found in Sung’s pants pocket, which listed eight powerful politicians, dates and amounts of money.
mong them were Yoo Jeong-bok, Hong Moon-jong, Hong Joon-pyo, Huh Tae-yeol, Kim Ki-choon, Lee Byung-kee and Lee Wan-koo. The list also referred to an unidentified Busan mayor.
Incheon Mayor Yoo, Saenuri lawmaker Hong Moon-jong and Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo were in charge of organization and finance during Park’s presidential campaign, an indication that her election funds are likely to be investigated. All the people on the list have denied taking money from Sung.
Prosecutor-general Kim Jin-tae formed a special investigation team Sunday and appointed Mun Mu-il, head of the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office, to lead the probe.
“The special investigation team will lay bare the truth with a speedy and thorough investigation,” Kim said after an emergency meeting of top prosecutors. “The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office’s investigation into the corruption allegations surrounding overseas resources development projects will also continue.”
The special investigation team consists of about 10 prosecutors, including Mun. Mun has participated in numerous high-profile graft investigations involving top politicians, including a former aide to late President Roh Moo-hyun.
The probe formally begins today, starting with the memo found on Sung’s body and his two mobile phones.
Prosecutors asked the Kyunghyang Shinmun on Sunday to provide the original file of the audio recording of its interview with Sung.
“The newspaper said it intends to provide the record, but now is not the time,” said a prosecution source.
The alleged contribution to Hong Joon-pyo, South Gyeongsang governor, will likely be the first target of the investigation, since Sung told the Kyunghyang Shinmun who delivered the money to Hong in June 2011. Sung named a 52-year-old former journalist surnamed Yoon, as the middleman.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office already obtained testimony from a vice president of Keangnam Enterprises in charge of accounting about suspicious transactions by top company executives.
“At the order of Chairman Sung, I delivered 100 million won to Yoon,” he was quoted as saying. “From 2007 until 2014, I withdrew and delivered a total of 3.2 billion won.”
Earlier in the morning, Kim Moo-sung, chairman of the Saenuri Party, held a news conference and urged the prosecution to conduct a fair and independent investigation.
Promising that the ruling party will do everything in its power to ensure the prosecution faces no outside pressure, Kim said it is premature to talk about an independent counsel.
“The entire political arena was sucked into the scandal and state affairs were hit hard because of the memo created by the late businessman,” Kim said. “The top priority is a speedy and thorough investigation to save the country from this shock.”
Moon Jae-in, head of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy who was narrowly defeated by Park in the 2012 presidential election, said those on the list must step down from their posts so they can’t hinder the investigation.
“If the prosecution fails to lay bare the truth, the people will demand an independent counsel,” he said.
BY SER MYO-JA [email@example.com]