Corruption allegations against Rep. Park Sang-eun of the ruling Saenuri Party are snowballing. The two-term lawmaker representing an Incheon constituency is one of the politicians suspected of having received bribes from coastal shipping companies, including Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the capsized Sewol ferry.
The legislator got himself into hot water on June 11 when he reported to police that his briefcase containing 20 million won had been stolen.
The next day, however, his driver-cum-secretary delivered the briefcase to prosecutors, alleging that the money in it was part of the illegal money the lawmaker had received from other politicians.
Park told prosecutors that he carried the money to pay for the legal services he had received, saying that part of it came from his bank accounts while the remainder came from sales of his books.
His clarification fueled suspicions because he did not even know how much money was in the briefcase. There was 30 million won ― 10 million won more than the amount he said had been stolen.
Investigators believe that the money probably came from some of the ruling party candidates who ran in the June 4 local elections in his constituency. Park is suspected of having received money in return for helping them win the party’s nomination.
Suspicions of corruption mounted when prosecutors found bundles of dollar and yen bills totaling 600 million won during their search of the house of Park’s son.
Prosecutors are investigating the allegations that the legislator received several millions of won every month from corporations in the name of fees for his consultancy for them.
They also suspect he diverted some corporate donations to the Institute of Korean Studies, a private research institution under his control, to raise illegal slush funds.
Other allegations ensued, including that a shipping company paid the salary of his special economic aide.
Park, a former president of TS Corp., a sugar and food producer, is known to have extensive connections with people in the shipping industry. He was found to have taken several overseas junkets with other lawmakers that were paid for by the Korea Shipowners’ Association.
Park’s close ties with shipping firms made him an early target of prosecutors’ crackdown on corruption in the shipping industry, which was triggered by the Sewol ferry tragedy.
To prevent a similar disaster in the future, prosecutors should carry out a no-holds-barred crackdown on corrupt ties between public officials and businesses. The investigation into Park is just the beginning. They need to cast their net far and wide.