[ed] Panic over bribery list

Political fighting should take a backseat to investigation

A special team of prosecutors has begun digging into the allegations of bribery by a now-deceased businessman of heavyweight officials in the government and the ruling party. In parallel, there have been alarming helter-skelter moves from the politicians who are listed on the memo left by Sung Woan-jong, former Keangnam Enterprises CEO who recently killed himself.

One who stands out is Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo. On Tuesday, a vernacular newspaper released a third batch of information from an interview with Sung in which he says he gave 30 million won ($27,000) to the prime minister The money was given while Lee was running for a parliamentary seat in April 2013.

Since Sung’s death and his “list” were disclosed, politicians have denied they received any money. Some have said they did not even know Sung very well. Then, they came forward to disclose that they had received Sung’s calls for help to clear his name. They include the President’s chief of staff Lee Byung-kee, ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung, senior ruling party member Suh Chung-won and the prime minister

Having one’s name listed on an alleged bribery memo is not a matter to be taken lightly for a politician, thus some confusion is to be expected. For the ruling party, which in 2003 was hit with a massive bribery scandal involving party leaders, Sung’s list may well be like a ghost revisited.

But the prime minister’s actions stand out more than others, perhaps because of the weight of his office and his past actions. Initially, the prime minister said he did not have special personal relations with Sung. Then he appeared Monday at the National Assembly to defend making 15 calls to two of Sung’s allies, and said that he received one call from Sung as well.

People may remember when the prime minister in February spoke vaguely about his military service, and had to profusely apologize for the remarks he made to a group of journalists ahead of the parliamentary hearings. It would be unfortunate for the public if it were an ingrained habit for the prime minister to slightly tweak his words when under duress. Lee vowed to step down if the allegations about the 30 million won are true, and to comply with the prosecution team if summoned. People will be keenly watching the results of the investigation.

Sung’s list is no doubt whipping up a political storm for the Korean political parties long fettered by unhealthy political funding. Ruling party Chairman Kim Moo-sung may have had that in mind when he said that both the ruling party and the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy should be subject to any investigation into the 2012 presidential election funding. But investigations into the 2012 presidential elections should be a separate matter, one that should start if any evidence is found.

SOURCE: The Korea Times

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