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Ex-vice culture minister questioned over bribery

Former Vice Culture Minister Shin Jae-min on Sunday was questioned by state prosecutors after a businessman claimed to have given him nearly 1 billion won ($847,000) over the space of a decade.

The interrogation is expected to widen investigations into the scandal including President Lee Myung-bak’s key aides.

Entering the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office around 10 a.m., Shin told reporters: “I used to come here to conduct investigations (as a journalist.) I never thought I would be here to be investigated.”

Shin was a newspaper reporter for about 20 years, before joining Lee’s presidential campaign team.

The prosecutorial investigation began following a disclosure by SLS Chairman Lee Kook-chul last month that he had offered credit cards, cash, vouchers, vehicles and other items worth 1 billion won to Shin since 2002.

Lee has given prosecutors two large suitcases filled with items including credit card slips, car lease records and voucher receipts, which he said are proof of his claims.

The businessman, however, insisted that they were not bribes, because he didn’t seek any favors in return. 
Former Vice Culture Minister Shin Jae-min talks to reporters as he enters the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, Sunday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Former Vice Culture Minister Shin Jae-min talks to reporters as he enters the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, Sunday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Shin denied any wrongdoing.

“If what I have done is wrong, I am willing to face the music and take all the blame,” he wrote on his Facebook page before the interrogation.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Shin received cash and other benefits from Lee, as claimed by Lee, and whether he provided any business favors to Lee in return.

Lee said Shin has used his corporate credit card 250 times between June 2008 and September 2009 at department stores, high-end restaurants and hotels. He said Shin used much of the money to provide favors to influential figures including Kwak Seung-jun, chairman of the Presidential Council for Future and Vision, and Lim Jae-hyun, presidential secretary for policy publicity. Kwak and Lim denied the allegations and both filed a libel suit against Lee.

The prosecutors are studying the authenticity of Lee’s documents by comparing them with the actual sales records of the department stores and duty free stores. They will also question Shin on whether he had tried to save the business of the scandal-ridden businessman in return for the favors.

The investigators are to summon Lee on Monday for the third time, following a raid on his office, home and other places last Friday.

Lee on Sunday threatened to disclose his “little black book” of others receiving his favors should he become the target of the ongoing investigation.

“Shin’s case is only 1 out of 100 irregularities I am engaged in. Politicians, administrators and businessmen including Justice Minister Kwon Jae-jin are included in the book,“ he said in a press conference Sunday.

“The prosecutors’ investigation may end up in me and my people getting arrested, alleging that they could not find any grounds to my bribery allegations. I will not let that happen,” he said, adding that the outcome of his disclosure will be explosive.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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