Ex-telecom regulator apologizes over graft allegations
Choi See-joong, a former top communications regulator with close ties to President Lee Myung-bak, apologized to the president and the people Thursday for causing a scandal after allegations surfaced that he took bribes in exchange for influence peddling.
Emerging from more than 14 hours of questioning at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seoul, the 75-year-old Choi told reporters he complied fully with the investigation and gave prosecutors a detailed explanation of his position.
Asked if he had anything to say to the presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, Choi laughed and said, "I am sorry and would like to apologize not only to Cheong Wa Dae but to all the people."
Choi stepped down as chairman of the state-run Korea Communications Commission in January over a separate graft scandal involving one of his aides. He is now suspected of accepting between 500 million won (US$439,000) and 600 million won between 2007-2008 from a property developer, Lee Jeong-bae, and helping his company, Pi City, win a permit to build a large trade complex in southern Seoul.
"At Cheong Wa Dae, the president has a lot of tasks to do even without me, and I am deeply ashamed to think that I have placed an additional burden," Choi said as he left the prosecutors' office past 1 a.m.
Prosecutors were expected to seek an arrest warrant for Choi later in the day at the earliest.
As a close confidant of Lee, the former top telecom regulator played a key role in the president's 2007 election win. Reacting to the bribery allegations Monday, he said he received the cash, not as payment for favors but to cover the cost of conducting opinion polls during Lee's 2007 election campaign.
He later reversed his remarks, saying the money was used for private purposes.
Prosecutors arrested a broker on Saturday on suspicion of delivering the money and imposed an overseas travel ban on Choi the following day. The developer had allegedly offered 1.1 billion won to the broker for delivery to Choi.
The revelation has dealt another blow to the Lee administration, whose image has been tarnished by a string of corruption scandals involving the president's aides and recently renewed allegations it conducted illegal surveillance on civilians in the past.
Opposition political parties have stepped up their offensive against Lee, demanding the presidential office promptly reveal the truth behind the allegations, and calling on the prosecution to open an investigation into his past campaign funds.
Another close confidant of Lee, former Vice Economic Minister Park Young-june, is also suspected of involvement in the case. On Wednesday, investigators raided his home in Yongsan, central Seoul, and his office in the southeastern city of Daegu to secure further evidence.
The developer claimed earlier he gave large amounts of lobbying money to the same broker for delivery to Park. The former vice minister was recently embroiled in a stock manipulation scandal related to a diamond mining project in Cameroon. (Yonhap)