A chief lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic United Party snubbed a prosecution summons again Friday, a move expected to lead ultimately to a sensitive vote in parliament over his arrest.
It was the third time in a period of eight days that Rep. Park Jie-won has ignored a subpoena for questioning over bribery suspicions in a massive corruption scandal involving ailing savings banks.
Park has maintained that he will not cooperate with the prosecution's investigation, accusing it of being politically driven and aimed at watering down corruption allegations involving an elder brother and former aides of President Lee Myung-bak.
Prosecutors said they will soon seek a court warrant to detain Park.
In that case, the court then must seek consent from the National Assembly before deciding whether to issue an arrest warrant for the lawmaker or not because a sitting lawmaker has immunity from arrest while the National Assembly is in session.
Earlier this month, the ruling Saenuri Party came under intense public fire after the National Assembly struck down an arrest motion for one of its lawmakers, Rep. Chung Doo-un, who was also accused of bribery.
The party's rejection of the arrest motion for its fellow lawmaker was seen as a slap in the face of voters as it ran counter to the ruling party's promise to forgo privileges granted to legislators, including the immunity from arrest.
The arrest motion needs to be put to a vote within 72 hours of being reported to the parliament, with a majority of votes needed for its approval.
Currently, the ruling Saenuri Party has 149 seats, followed by the DUP with 127, the minor opposition Unified Progressive Party with 13, and another minor party and independent lawmakers with 11.
Park, a three-term lawmaker, is suspected of accepting around 100 million won (US$87,657) in kickbacks from the now-jailed Solomon Savings Bank Chairman Lim Suk in return for influence peddling on behalf of the savings bank before the general elections in 2008, according to the prosecutors.
The prosecutors have also reportedly secured testimonies from the now-jailed former Bohae Mutual Savings Bank Chairman Oh Moon-chol and Bohae Brewery Co. Chairman Lim Kun-woo, who each allegedly gave some 30 million won to Park.
Park, who had served as a chief of presidential staff and a culture minister under former President Kim Dae-jung, became the floor leader of the center-left party in May.
In the savings bank scandal, an elder brother of President Lee Myung-bak was also indicted on bribery charges Thursday. It was the first time in South Korea that a brother of a sitting president has been arrested to stand trial.