Will it lead to President?
By Na Jeong-ju
Allegations that a former aide of President Lee Myung-bak’s elder brother Lee Sang-deuk took a large sum of money in bribes emerged Tuesday, a day after the President’s mentor Choi See-joong admitted receiving cash from a businessman, which he used for Lee’s 2007 presidential campaign.
The prosecution said it was checking whether the 77-year-old former National Assembly vice speaker received illegal political funds from corporations through his aides. The elder Lee is known to be a father figure to the President, reportedly wielding real power behind the scenes.
The elder Lee, a six-term lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, is suspected of having kept the money he received from businesses in bank accounts belonging to his aides. Park Bae-su, his former secretary, was indicted early this year for taking 700 million won ($613,000) from SLS Group Chairman Lee Kuk-chul, who is also facing trial on bribery charges.
Lee Sang-deuk denied the allegations, saying the money was from the sale of property and gifts for the wedding of his children.
Prosecutors said they have secured testimony from Park that Lee Sang-deuk lied about the source of the money, indicating that they will issue a summons for the lawmaker as early as next week.
Park was also found to have taken 150 million won from Jeil Savings Bank Chairman Yoo Dong-chun. Yoo, who was also indicted for misappropriation of funds, told investigators that he offered bribes to the elder Lee to seek his influence for his business.
The chairman also said he provided 400 million won to first lady Kim Yoon-ok’s cousin, Kim Jae-hong.
Prosecutors also suspect that the Prime Savings Bank offered bribes to Lee in 2007 in return for business favors.
The bribery scandal is ripping through the ruling camp as parties are gearing up for the presidential election in December. It is expected to deal a critical blow to the leadership of President Lee with his five-year tenure due to end in February next year.
The elder Lee has stayed out of party affairs following accusations from ruling party lawmakers that he abused his position to meddle in selecting people for senior government posts and candidates for major elections.
In the face of calls to give up his parliamentary seat, he announced in December that he wouldn’t run in the April 11 National Assembly elections.
Former KCC chairman Choi allegedly received more than 1 billion won from a former chairman of Picity, a real estate development firm. Prosecutors said Monday that Choi received the money through a “broker,” who is a middle school junior to Choi.
The broker, also surnamed Lee, is also suspected of having given money to another key presidential aide Park Young-joon, a former vice minister of knowledge economy.
Choi admitted on Monday that he received the money, but claimed that it was not in return for influence peddling and that he spent all the money on the presidential campaign.
Choi, who was born in Pohang, is a key member of the so-called Yeongpo group, a fraternity of senior officials whose hometowns are Yeongil and Pohang in North Gyeongsang Province.
The group has been criticized for influencing personnel appointments at government offices and public firms, using its ties to President Lee, who spent most of his childhood in Pohang.