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Prosecutors seek arrest warrant for former vice culture minister

The Seoul prosecution requested arrest warrants Monday for a former vice culture minister and a local businessman for investigation into allegations that the former official received a huge amount of money from the businessman in return for influence peddling, prosecutors said.

Shin Jae-min, the ex-vice minister and close confidant to President Lee Myung-bak, is suspected of taking more than 1 billion won (US$851,788) in cash and gift certificates from SLS Group Chairman Lee Kuk-chul over the past decade.

A Seoul Central District Court judge plans to question Shin and Lee on Wednesday before deciding whether to issue the arrest warrants.

The businessman has claimed that he asked Shin to use his influence to help avoid a state-led debt rescheduling for the conglomerate in return for the payments.

  During three rounds of questioning, Shin admitted to receiving part of the money from Lee but denied that the money was financial reward for peddling influence for Lee, according to prosecution sources.

Prosecutors said Shin will face bribery-taking charges as he is believed to have taken at least 100 million won from the SLS chairman. The businessman claims he gave Shin more than 1 billion won.

Charges against the chairman include fraud, embezzlement, bribery offering and defamation, according to the prosecutors.

Lee, who built the conglomerate that focuses on shipbuilding and heavy industries, is suspected of getting $1.2 billion in refund guarantees from state-run trade insurance firms based on falsified report on the group's financial status and creating huge slush funds worth 90 billion won, they said.

The investigation began when Lee disclosed to the media last month that he constantly gave cash and gift certificates to Shin from when he was a journalist in the local press in 2002 until recently.

The businessman has claimed he came forward with the revelations because he has been unfairly investigated over and over again under the current administration in what he said was a plot to topple his conglomerate.

A series of SLS subsidiaries have either gone bankrupt or into a debt workout program since 2009 when the chairman was investigated on suspicion of bribery and other charges. In November last year, he was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years.

In an apparent protest of the prosecutors' demand for an arrest warrant, Lee said he will make public his secret memorandum that allegedly details corruption involving senior officials.

Shin's case was the latest corruption scandal involving close aides to President Lee.

Kim Du-woo, a former senior presidential aide for public relations, was arrested late last month by prosecutors for a separate bribery case involving a suspended savings bank.

As a flurry of corruption scandals have flared up in the last years of Lee's presidency, Lee called for stern actions against bribery cases involving some of his close aides and family members last month.

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