Posted : 2012-04-25 17:38
Updated : 2012-04-25 17:38

Lee suffers end-of-term syndrome

Former Korea Communications Commission Chairman Choi See-joong enters the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in southern Seoul, Wednesday, without answering reporters’ questions before being grilled over bribery allegations.
/ Korea Times photo by Cho Young-ho

Presidential mentor grilled over bribery allegations

By Na Jeong-ju

Traditionally, corruption scandals rock administrations at the end of their terms.

History appears to be obviously repeating itself as the big guns who helped President Lee Myung-bak win the 2007 election and enjoyed riding on the cusp of power are now succumbing to a backlash for their avarice.

Amid morning drizzle, former Korea Communications Commission (KCC) Chairman Choi See-joong, who is referred to as Lee’s mentor, was summoned by prosecutors Wednesday on charges of taking huge bribes.

With a big black umbrella, the 75-year-old man, the power behind the scenes, entered the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office in southern Seoul. He told a gaggle of reporters, “I will answer questions to the best of my ability.”

It was widely expected that an advanced arrest warrant would be issued to put him behind bars for partially admitting to receiving money from Picity, a real estate developer, during the 2007 presidential campaign.

The grilling comes after investigators revealed that they had found clues suggesting his involvement in bribery. The prosecution said it secured testimony from former Picity Chairman Lee Jeong-bae that he offered bribes to Choi as well as another key presidential aide Park Young-joon, a former knowledge economy minister, through a “broker.”

There is now keen attention on whether the probe will lead to a full-scale investigation into campaign funds used during the 2007 presidential race. Choi admitted Monday that he received money from Picity, but claimed it was not in return for influence peddling and that he spent it on President Lee’s campaign.

Arriving at the prosecution office in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul at 10:40 a.m., a grim-faced Choi said, “I will answer (questions from prosecutors) sincerely.” Reporters asked a flurry of questions about his involvement, but he refused to answer.

According to the prosecution, the Picity chairman, who is now imprisoned, told investigators that he gave at least 6 billion won ($5.26 million) to the broker, who is a middle school junior to Choi, to lobby for a construction project. Prosecutors suspect that some 1.1 billion won was given to Choi and Park. The prosecution will issue a summons for the former vice minister, too.

The businessman said he bribed “powerful people” to get a license to build a complex of office buildings and logistics facilities in Yangjae-dong, southern Seoul. The project had long been stalled due to its negative impact on traffic and air quality, but Seoul City approved the project in May 2006 when President Lee was mayor. Lee served as Seoul mayor from July 2002 to June 2006.

The real estate firm allegedly stashed a slush fund amounting to some 30 billion won. The prosecution is now tracing money transfers between the firm and presidential aides who had relationships with the chairman.

Choi, after receiving a complaint from the Picity chairman in 2010, reportedly called Financial Supervisory Service Governor Kwon Hyouk-se and Justice Minister Kwon Jae-jin, then-senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, and told them to “take care of” him.

Former Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon, who succeeded Lee, is also in the hot seat.

In 2008, Seoul allowed Picity to convert logistics facilities into office buildings, which opposition lawmakers claim was preferential treatment for the developer. Given high rental fees for offices in southern Seoul, the decision boosted the value of the buildings by some 500 billion won, according to the lawmakers. The city government said Wednesday it has launched a full-scale probe into Oh’s possible involvement in the decision.

The prosecution reportedly secured clues to the bribery while investigating a separate corruption case involving Seon Jong-koo, CEO of the country’s largest electronics retailer Himart. Picity has long been a subcontractor for Himart, which allegedly created a slush fund through irregular deals with its subcontractors.

Ex-KCC Chairman Choi quit as chairman of Gallup Korea, an opinion survey firm, in May 2007 to join Lee’s campaign team. After Lee was elected later in the year, he was named as KCC chairman in March 2008 and had remained in the position until he resigned in February amid a bribery scandal involving his aides.
관련 한글 기사

최시중 검찰 출석…"성실히 조사받겠다"

檢 최 前위원장 조사뒤 사전 구속영장 청구 검토

서울 양재동 복합유통단지 인허가 비리사건을 수사 중인 대검찰청 중앙수사부(최재경 검사장)는 이 사업의 시행사인 파이시티 측으로부터 거액의 금품을 수수한 혐의로 최시중(75) 전 방송통신위원회 위원장을 25일 오전 피내사자 신분으로 소환, 조사하고 있다.

이날 오전 10시40분께 서울 서초동 대검찰청 청사에 나온 최 전 위원장은 기자들이 청탁 대가로 돈을 받았는지 등을 묻자 "성실하게 조사에 임하겠다"고만 짧게 답하고 조사를 받기 위해 대검 청사로 들어갔다.

이 과정에서 언론노조 조합원 5~6명이 '언론장악 몸통 최시중 구속, 낙하산 퇴출'이라고 쓰인 피켓을 들고 기습시위를 하고 최 전 위원장의 검찰 출석을 취재하려는 기자 수십명이 대검 청사 입구에 몰려 한데 뒤엉키면서 소란이 빚어졌다.

검찰에 따르면 최 전 위원장은 ㈜파이시티 측으로부터 인허가 청탁 명목으로 수억원을 받은 혐의를 받고 있다.

검찰은 최 전 위원장을 조사한뒤 알선수재 혐의로 사전 구속영장을 청구하는 것을 검토중인 것으로 알려졌다.

파이시티 전 대표 이모(55)씨는 지난 2007~2008년 최 전 위원장에게 복합유통단지 인허가 청탁을 해달라는 명목으로 건설업체 대표이자 최 전 위원장의 중학교 후배인 브로커 이모(61ㆍ구속)씨에게 11억여원을 건넨 것으로 전해졌다.

검찰은 브로커 이씨가 최 전 위원장에 대한 로비 명목으로 돈을 받아간 정황을 포착했으며, 이 가운데 5~6억원 가량이 최 전 위원장에게 전해진 것으로 보고 실제로 인허가 과정에서 대가성이 있었는지를 수사하고 있다.

이에 대해 최 전 위원장은 23일 한 방송과의 인터뷰에서 돈을 받기는 했지만 인허가 청탁의 대가는 아니었다며 이명박 대통령이 후보로 나섰던 지난 대선 당시 자신이 독자적으로 한 여론조사를 비롯해 정치에 필요한 비용으로 이 돈을 썼다는 취지로 말했다.

검찰은 이날 최 전 위원장을 상대로 돈의 액수와 사용처, 대가성 여부 등을 집중 조사 중이다.

특히 최 전 위원장이 대선 당시 여론조사 등 정치에 필요한 비용으로 돈을 썼다고 밝힘에 따라 이번 수사가 대선 자금 수사로 확대될지 관심이다.

검찰 관계자는 "현재로선 파이시티 인허가에 관한 로비와 금품수수 수사를 하고 있다"며 대선자금 수사로의 확대해석을 경계하면서도 "혐의가 나오면 나오는 대로 수사하겠다"고 밝혔다.

검찰은 또 브로커 이씨가 박영준(62) 전 지식경제부 차관에 대한 인허가 로비 명목으로 거액을 받아갔다는 파이시티 전 대표 이씨의 진술도 확보한 것으로 알려졌다.

검찰은 그러나 박 전 차관의 경우 아직 파이시티 전 대표의 진술 정도만 있을 뿐 구체적인 증거는 확인하지 못한 것으로 전해졌다.

한편 파이시티 전 대표 이씨는 인허가 로비 자금 명목으로 브로커 이씨에게 60억여원을 건넸다고 주장하는 것으로 전해졌다. 그러나 검찰이 현재 파악한 로비자금의 규모는 11억원 정도다.

검찰은 자금의 흐름을 확인하기 위해 관련자에 대한 광범위한 계좌추적도 병행하고 있다. (연합뉴스)

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