Anti-corruption crusader under siege over alleged bribery

April 14, 2015

Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, left, is under intense pressure to resign. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, April 14 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s anti-corruption crusader is under mounting pressure to quit amid a snowballing bribery scandal that rocked the government of President Park Geun-hye.

Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo is accused of accepting 30 million won (US$27,000) in cash from a late businessman in 2013, when Lee was running for a parliamentary seat.

Lee adamantly rejected the allegations, saying he has not taken even a penny from Sung Wan-jong, the former chairman of a troubled mid-size construction company who committed suicide last week.

“I will resign from my post if facts are clearly found that (I) received the money,” Lee said before attending a session at the National Assembly.

Lee later told lawmakers that he is willing to undergo a prosecution probe over the scandal and that he will die if there is any evidence that he received the money.

Still, he is under intense fire from both the ruling and opposition parties.

Park’s conservative Saenuri Party called on prosecutors to quickly launch an investigation into Lee and said it is ready to accept an investigation into the scandal by an independent counsel.

Moon Jae-in, the head of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, pressed Lee and the incumbent presidential chief of staff to resign.

“There is no precedent in history for a sitting prime minister and chief of staff going under an investigation as suspects,” Moon said during a party event held in the southern metropolitan city of Gwangju.

The bribery allegation came a month after Lee declared an “all-out war” on corruption, saying the government will mobilize all its resources to root it out.

The presidential office said it is taking a wait-and-see attitude on Lee’s alleged bribe-taking, citing an ongoing prosecution probe into the scandal.

Lee is the highest-level official listed on a so-called “bribery list” left behind by Sung, who claimed he worked for Park’s presidential campaign in 2012.

Sung claimed he was being targeted by a prosecution investigation into the country’s overseas resources development projects pushed by the former Lee Myung-bak government.

Seven other heavyweight politicians on the list include Park’s two former chiefs of staff — Huh Tae-yeol and Kim Ki-choon — as well as her current chief of staff, Lee Byung-kee.

Sung’s handwritten memo showed won figures written next to the names of six out of eight politicians, indicating that they had received money. No won figures were written next to Lee’s name or that of Lee Byung-kee.

The bribery allegation against Lee came to the fore in a newspaper interview with Sung published Tuesday, that was held over the phone before his suicide.