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Deceased businessman said Park aides took money

Prosecutors on Friday revealed a list containing the names of people who allegedly received political funds from a deceased businessman. The list, apparently written by the late Sung Woan-jong, includes two former chief presidential secretaries and the incumbent prime minister.

Local daily The Kyunghyang Shinmun reported earlier Friday that Sung, former chief of a construction company facing an irregularities probe, claimed to have given money to two of President Park Geun-hye’s former chiefs of staff in a telephone interview just hours before his apparent suicide. Police found Sung dead on a mountain in Seoul on Thursday.

According to the newspaper, Sung said he gave about $100,000 to Kim Ki-choon in 2006 and 700 million won ($640,000) to Huh Tae-yeol in 2007, when Park unsuccessfully ran in the Grand National Party’s presidential primary. The GNP is the forerunner of the governing Saenuri Party.

Former Cheong Wa Dae Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon on a trip to Belgium in 2006. The late Sung Woan-jong accused Kim of receiving $100,000 from him just before this trip. Police found Sung dead Thursday in an apparent suicide. Prosecutors had been probing Sung for allegedly swindling government funds. (Yonhap)
Former Cheong Wa Dae Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon on a trip to Belgium in 2006. The late Sung Woan-jong accused Kim of receiving $100,000 from him just before this trip. Police found Sung dead Thursday in an apparent suicide. Prosecutors had been probing Sung for allegedly swindling government funds. (Yonhap)

Kim served as chief of staff from 2013 to early this year, while Huh was Park’s first chief presidential secretary in 2013.

They denied the claims.

“Although I express my deepest regret over (Sung’s) death, the accusation is an absurd lie that has no grounds whatsoever,” Kim said in a statement released through Cheong Wa Dae.

Huh also said that “such money trade is unimaginable” as then-candidate Park stressed the need for a “clean primary.”

In a note found with his body, Sung also listed Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok, South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, current Presidential Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee and “the mayor of Busan.”

Prosecutors are examining the handwriting to ensure Sung wrote the note.

Prime Minister Lee said he had no connection to Sung, while incumbent Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo called the allegation “baseless.”

The Saenuri Party went into an uproar after the prosecutors disclosed the list, with the party leadership planning an emergency meeting but canceling at the last minute.

“It is our position that the truth must be clarified first. ... . It is difficult to make any official statement when no facts have been clarified,” party spokesman Rep. Kim Young-woo said.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy called the accusations proof of “the Park administration’s largest political scandal.”

While some demanded a special probe into the new allegations, others took a more cautious approach. They cited the difficulty in unraveling the truth as Sung was dead.

Sung’s claims are nonetheless expected to hinder the Park administration’s recent anticorruption drive as its top officials are linked to the allegations.

The accusations are also expected to affect the by-elections this month as many of the accused are members of the Saenuri Party.

Prosecutors have been probing firms linked to influence-peddling allegations during the administration of Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.

Prosecutors suspected Lee officials of giving firms favorable financial treatment, including Sung’s company Keangnam Enterprises.

Prosecutors had planned to detain Sung on the day of his death, pending a court’s approval. Sung had denied his charges.

In his Thursday interview published on The Kyunghyang Shinmun’s website at noon Friday, Sung claimed he had given the money in good faith to Kim and Huh.

“I helped Park’s campaign team a lot in 2007,” he said.

“Those funds were given with an implicit trust, you know, that we would be helping each other out,” Sung added.

Sung’s allegations could have some impact on the by-elections later this month depending on how the investigations unfold, experts said.

“The names are big enough to have some impact,” said Yoon Pyung-joong, professor at Hanshin University, noting that the incumbent prime minister and former presidential chiefs of staff were among those accused of receiving money.

“But we will have to wait for the dust to settle to see how big the impact will be on the elections.”

Yang Seung-ham of Yonsei University said many aspects of Sung’s accusations remained murky, as they also need to figure out how the money was spent, and if they were actually given to the aides.

“The list could damage the credentials of the Saenuri Party candidates in the elections … but we’re going to have to wait and see,” Yang added.

By Jeong Hunny hj257@heraldcorp.com)
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