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Prosecutors to summon Kwak’s wife, confidants

The prosecution will summon the wife of Seoul’s education chief for questioning Wednesday, on allegations that her husband bought a rival candidate out of race in last year’s election, officials said Tuesday.

It will also subpoena two confidants of Kwak No-hyun, superintendent of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, on the same day, to grill them on their alleged involvement in negotiations with Park Myoung-gee over his withdrawal of candidacy for the Seoul education chief and their delivery of money to him in return.

The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, which leads the investigation, said that they will be summoned as witnesses, not as suspects.

Prosecutors suspect that Kwak’s wife, identified as Chung, withdrew 30 million won from her own bank account, which was part of the 50 million won transferred to Park’s aide on Feb. 22, this year. The 50 million won is one of six installments in which Kwak delivered a total of 200 million won to Park through Kang Gyeong-sun, professor of Korea National Open University, from February to April.

Investigators suspect portions of the 170 million, except for 30 million won transferred from Chung’s bank account, came from dubious sources, and will focus their probe on how they were raised.

Prosecutors plan to summon Kwak as soon as they complete investigation of those around him.

Kwak on Sunday admitted having paid Park, but insisted that it was purely out of goodwill and was in no way linked to his last-minute withdrawal of candidacy for the Seoul education chief post.

Park, professor of Seoul National University of Education currently under arrest, withdrew about two weeks before the June 2 election, leaving Kwak the sole candidate representing liberal opposition. His departure from the race ultimately made it possible for Kwak to win the vote against six conservative candidates.

Prosecutors are trying to verify that the 200 million won was payment in breach of election rules, while tracking the source of the money.

Kwak, a former law professor, has made it clear that he will fight to clear his name while remaining in post. Calls mounted for him to resign.

Refusing to give in to the pressure, the embattled education reformer kept to his usual schedule Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege that Kwak and Park reached a verbal agreement on monetary compensation totaling 700 million won before Park announced his withdrawal in support of Kwak.

Activists from left-leaning civic and educational groups held a press conference Tuesday, claiming that the unification process of liberal candidates in the superintendent race was democratic and transparent.

They said they had united liberals under the single candidacy of Kwak.

They claimed that the prosecution is playing up the case in order to mar the ethical integrity of liberal groups as a whole, by leaking to the press details of the ongoing probe and whatever suspicions they have against Kwak.

“Whatever the reason, we think it was inappropriate for Kwak, as a public officeholder, to give such a huge amount of money to Park, who was once his rival for the post,” they said.

Earlier in the day, a senior civic activist who said he was also involved in the unification process of liberal candidates claimed that Park demanded that he be compensated for his spending on election campaign but Kwak rejected it.

The two sides met on May 17, two days before Park announced his withdrawal, where Kwak flatly rejected Park’s demand for 700 million won in cash rewards, Rev. Lee Hae-joon said on a radio program.

“At least to me, Kwak appeared firmly against it. He said such a deal should and would never take place,” he said.

The reverend said he had no good knowledge of what happened during the two-day interval between the May 17 meeting and Park’s May 19 withdrawal.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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