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Former prime minister denies bribery charges

In the first hearing held Wednesday for a high-profile graft scandal involving a late business tycoon, former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo was not present, but his legal representatives there strongly denied his charges of allegedly receiving bribes.

Questioned as to whether Lee also denies the fact that he had met the late businessman, however, Lee’s attorneys refused to answer, saying that they would reply in the next hearing.

The hearing took place at Seoul Central District Court, over three months after late Keangnam Enterprises chairman Sung Woan-jong shook the country with his suicide memo implicating eight political heavyweights as potential subjects of his bribery.

Lee was among the two who eventually took a fall from the memo scandal, as he was indicted earlier this month for allegedly receiving 30 million won ($26,000) in bribes from Sung.

Lee did not appear in court as it was not mandatory for those indicted without detention. The ex-prime minister stepped down from the post in April after the allegations were raised.

Prosecutors urged the court to promptly proceed the trial process, citing concerns that the memory of testifiers can be affected as time goes by. The prosecution has reportedly submitted the evidence of late Sung’s “bribery memo” and the voice record of the phone interview with a news outlet in which Sung testifies that he had handed over the funds to Lee.

The next hearing will he held on July 31, officials said.

South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, who was indicted along with Lee for the same charges, will face a separate hearing Thursday.

Hong is accused of receiving 100 million won from a high-ranking official of Sung’s company. He was also one of the eight figures listed in late Sung’s memo.

Hong has reportedly prepared for the hearing with a group of top-notch lawyers, sources said.

The attorney group comprising eight lawyers will be led by L.K.B & Partners’ head lawyer Lee Kwang-bum. Lee was the special prosecutor who indicted three presidential security officials in the probe into the irregularities of former President Lee Myung-bak’s retirement home plan in 2012.

Hong will also not appear in the hearing, sources added.

Six other high-ranking politicians, who were also listed in Sung’s suicide memo, were cleared of receiving kickbacks earlier this month, citing a lack of evidence.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)
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