The election graft scandal involving Seoul’s education chief Kwak No-hyun took a twist Thursday, after a professor under arrest for taking bribes from Kwak claimed that the money he received was not a bribe.
Speaking through his attorney for the first time since the scandal broke, Park Myoung-gee claimed that he had pointedly denied the accusations to the prosecutors who have kept him under their custody since late last month.
“Park said that he has continuously denied suspicions that there was a back-door deal between Kwak and himself before his withdrawal of candidacy,” Lee Jae-hwa, the attorney representing Park, said.
Kwak, professor of Seoul National University of Education, pulled out of the race for Seoul’s education superintendent two weeks before the vote, urging liberals to unite behind Kwak.
|Kwak No-hyun (right), superintendent of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, attends a city council session in the council building in downtown Seoul, Thursday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
Kwak won the election in June 2010, beating six candidates, mostly conservatives.
It was revealed last month that he received 200 million won ($186,000) from Kwak early this year, which the prosecutors suspect was his reward for pulling out of the race.
Park’s claims contradict what the investigators at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office have been saying about him but back Kwak’s argument that he did not bribe Park to get him out of the race.
Multiple media outlets, including The Korea Herald, had reported cited sources at the prosecution that Park made statements during interrogations that Kwak had promised to give him 700 million won in compensation, but paid just 200 million won.
Kwak, while admitting to offering the 200 million won, claims that the money was not linked to Park’s withdrawal of candidacy and that he just wanted to help out Park who he thought was suicidal under heavy debts from the election campaign.
Public prosecutors plan to indict Kwak, Park and two others who handled the transactions of the 200 million won, rounding up their investigation into the case.
The two others facing indictment are Kang Gyeong-sun, professor of Seoul National Open University and a friend of Kwak and a brother of Park. Kang, acting on behalf of Kwak, wired the 200 million won to bank accounts of Park’s brother in four installments between February and April this year.
The prosecution, which has already banned Kwak from leaving the country, has sought an arrest warrant for Kwak.
Kwak, resisting mounting pressure to resign, is gearing up for a legal battle in courtroom. An army of high-profile attorneys, many of them left-leaning, is representing the law professor-turned-superintendent.
The team includes a former head of the Korean Bar Association and incumbent and three former chiefs of progressive group Minbyun, or Lawyers for a Democratic Society.
Their first face-off with prosecutors is due Friday afternoon, when a Seoul court reviews the prosecutors’ request for an arrest warrant.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)