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Saenuri to expel 2 members over bribery scandal

The ruling Saenuri Party on Monday decided to expel the two members being investigated over a cash-for-nomination allegation, quickly moving to distance itself from the burgeoning scandal as the party struggles to redirect focus to the presidential primary race.

“In a unanimous decision by the ethics committee, the two will be expelled for reasons that they engaged in actions that were extremely damaging to the party’s development and dignity,” said Rep. Kyung Dae-soo, head of the Saenuri committee.

Rep. Hyun Young-hee was summoned by the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office in the afternoon for questioning on the allegation by her former aide that she provided 300 million won ($265,000) to Hyun Ki-hwan, a former lawmaker and member of the Saenuri Party’s nomination committee, for her candidacy in March.

“I will cooperate fully with the investigation. I will shed light on the truth without fail,” Rep. Hyun said while entering the prosecutors’ office.
Rep. Hyun Young-hee of the Saenuri Party arrives at the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday. (Yonhap News)
Rep. Hyun Young-hee of the Saenuri Party arrives at the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday. (Yonhap News)

Prosecutors said they found evidence of a massive cash withdrawal in their search and seizure of her residence and office over the weekend. They were to question her on the money as well as other allegations raised by the National Election Commission.

The expulsion of Rep. Hyun will require a two-thirds consensus from Saenuri lawmakers at their general meeting, while the ouster of Hyun Ki-hwan will be finalized by a vote at the Supreme Council. Both will be banned from reentering the party for the next five years. But Rep. Hyun, as a proportional representative, will be able to keep her lawmaker’s seat as an independent.

The party’s decision came after a drama-filled weekend involving minor presidential hopefuls threatening to boycott the primary race unless the leadership takes strong action.

The underdogs ― Kim Moon-soo, Yim Tae-hee, Kim Tae-ho and Ahn Sang-soo ― trail behind frontrunner Park Geun-hye, who had headed the party’s reform drive and the parliamentary campaign that resulted in a surprise victory on April 11 over the main opposition Democratic United Party.

Shielding former chairwoman Park from the surging demands by the opposition forces for her to take responsibility, Saenuri chairman Hwang Woo-yea promised to resign from his post if the allegation proved true.

“The more difficulty the party faces, we must place the interest of the party before our own, and humbly gather our wisdom and courage before the people,” Hwang said during the party’s Monday Supreme Council meeting.

Park, who participated in the party’s regional speech tour in Seoul along with her four in-house opponents, also called on the party to remain firm.

“If (the allegation) proves to be true, it is a grave crime that can never be allowed,” Park said in her speech.

“The truth must be clarified in an immediate future for anyone involved to be punished sternly,” she said.

“It is regrettable, for the sake of our party members and citizens, that such an allegation, regardless of whether it is true or not, is nonetheless raised.”

Offensives toward Park, however, continued from her opponents, both from and outside the Saenuri Party.

“It is a common knowledge that Hyun Ki-hwan, who is the key person in this case, led the nomination for the general elections and played the role of (Park’s) messenger,” Yim Tae-hee, a former presidential chief-of-staff said in a radio interview.

“Park must promise to take responsibility and resign (from her candidacy) if the suspicion proves to be true,” he said.

The DUP also called on Park to take direct responsibility, criticizing the Saenuri Party’s consensus that Hwang Woo-yea take the fall instead.

“It is absurd even to me as someone who has been in politics for a long period of time. Citizens are avoiding politics with distrust because they see things like former chairwoman Park Geun-hye unloading her responsibility over to chairman Hwang,” DUP chairman Lee Hae-chan said at the Supreme Council meeting.

DUP floor leader Park Jie-won said they will make sure the prosecution probe is conducted thoroughly by checking on them at the relevant standing committees.

Hyun Young-hee is also suspected of providing 20 million won in illegal political funds to the former Grand National Party at the end of March, in addition to making a false financial report on political funds and providing monetary rewards to volunteer workers. She entered the 19th National Assembly on the ticket of the Saenuri Party as a proportional member.

By Lee Joo-hee (