Turmoil deepened at the ruling Saenuri Party over the burgeoning cash-for-candidacy scandal, with the presidential runners demanding that the party leader resign while the main opposition party stepped up attacks on frontrunner Park Geun-hye.
The Busan District Prosecutors‘ Office on Friday began its investigation into the allegation that Saenuri Rep. Hyun Young-hee paid 300 million won ($264,300) to former lawmaker Hyun Ki-hwan around March, asking for her parliamentary candidacy for the April 11 general elections.
Reeling from the intensifying controversy ahead of the presidential election, its Supreme Council held an emergency meeting and decided to recommend that the two leave the party. Earlier in the day the leadership panel called for the ethics committee‘s review of the case.
“We regret the controversy in the midst of our effort to reform,” Saenuri spokesman Kim Young-woo said in a news briefing.
Rep. Hyun, as a proportional representative lawmaker, will lose her parliamentary seat if she voluntarily quits the party.
|Hyun Young-hee (left) and Hyun Ki-hwan of the Saenuri Party are surrounded by reporters Friday after attending a Supreme Council meeting to discuss a cash-for-nomination scandal involving them.(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
The leadership also suggested holding a meeting with all presidential candidates in an immediate future as the underdogs’ protest over the leadership’s “mediocre” countermeasures escalated.
Four presidential candidates Yim Tae-hee, Kim Tae-ho, Ahn Sang-soo and Kim Moon-soo held a press conference earlier in the afternoon and demanded that Chairman Hwang Woo-yea resign by Saturday to take responsibility, or else they would reconsider continuing on in the primary.
“Unless (Hwang) resigns, we will be making a significant decision,” they said, indicating that reconsidering primary participation could be one of such decisions.
In response, Kim Young-woo said resolving the issue was the priority rather than to have Hwang resign.
The four also demanded the party to launch a special investigation committee to verify the entire nomination process in order to resolve any suspicion that a certain factional member was favored. Both Hyuns have been said to support Park Geun-hye.
“While we should watch how the case develops, former chairwoman Park is not free of responsibility, either,” said Ahn Sang-soo, former Incheon mayor.
Park’s side expressed discomfort.
“A halt to the primary schedule is out of the question as the prosecution’s investigation and the (primary) are two separate things,” said Kim Chong-in, co-chairman of Park’s campaign team, in a television interview.
The leadership was reportedly torn over whether to take stern measures to assuage public disappointment or to take more time, as such a move can be seen as the party admitting to the cash-for-nomination allegation.
The ethics committee, for the time being, will conduct its own investigation into the allegation, which was reportedly raised by Hyun Young-hee’s former aide identified as Jeong Dong-geun, who Hyun claims was disgruntled after she refused to give him an assistance seat.
“There was discussion among the members over the identity of Jeong,” Kim Young-woo said.
“Hyun had explained that she felt (the allegation) was premeditated. She said she was surprised to hear that Jeong had written down every single detail,” Kim said.
The two Hyuns continued their strong denial and expressed determination to clear their names with the prosecution.
Hyun Ki-hwan appeared before the prosecution in the afternoon, while Hyun Young-hee said she will also voluntarily attend prosecutorial questioning as soon as possible.
The man flatly denied the allegations before entering the prosecutors’ office.
The main opposition Democratic United Party, meanwhile, had a heyday lambasting the Saenuri Party, which had defeated the DUP in the general elections with a successful campaign on political reform spearheaded by now-presidential frontrunner Park Geun-hye.
“It makes you think: The party’s DNA has not changed one bit,” DUP’s presidential candidate Moon Jae-in said while attending a regional event, referring to the 2002 scandal involving illegal political funds delivered by conglomerates to then-Grand National Party presidential candidate.
DUP Chairman Lee Hae-chan focused his attack on Park Geun-hye.
“It is a big problem if Park Geun-hye, who had headed the party’s emergency committee for the general elections, knew about the paid-for-nomination situation, and it will be even a bigger problem if she had no idea,” Lee said during a party meeting.
DUP Supreme Council member Woo Sang-ho agreed, saying, “Park Geun-hye must resign from her presidential candidacy. The pro-Park faction is rotten to the core. They are corrupt even before (the main presidential race) has begun.”
The prosecutors, meanwhile, said they plan to speed up the investigation as fast as possible considering the gravity of the case and the unconventionally premature media leakage of the allegation.
Hyun Young-hee is also suspected of providing 20 million won in illegal political funds to former Grand National Party leader Hong Joon-pyo at the end of March, in addition to making a false financial report on her political funds and providing monetary rewards to volunteer workers. She entered the 19th National Assembly on the Saenuri Party’s proportional representation list.
Hyun Ki-hwan, after helping the party’s parliamentary election campaign, is currently the vice president of Yeouido Institute, the Saenuri Party’s think tank.
By Lee Joo-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)