Close confidant of Lee insists innocence over graft scandal
A former vice economic minister close to President Lee Myung-bak insisted Thursday he was innocent of allegations he took hundreds of millions of won to influence the award of a construction project five years ago.
Emerging from nearly 18 hours of questioning at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seoul, Park Young-june said he explained himself thoroughly and faithfully answered questions during an investigation he described as "intense."
Asked by reporters if the bribery allegations were true, Park replied, "No. (My) position has not changed since I entered" the prosecutors' office Wednesday morning. Park left the building around 3:40 a.m. Thursday.
Prosecutors said they are considering requesting a warrant to arrest Park as early as today, based on evidence a property developer paid up to 300 million won ($265,390) in bribes to the former vice minister to win a construction permit for a major trade center in southern Seoul.
The 52-year-old Park is suspected of accepting the cash from a broker, first while serving as chief of the Seoul municipal government's political affairs bureau in 2005-2006, and later while working for then-presidential candidate Lee in 2007.
Park, who played a key role in Lee's election win, is the second high-level aide to come under prosecutorial investigation on suspicion of taking bribes from the developer, Lee Jeong-bae.
Choi See-joong, a former government communications regulator known as the president's political mentor, was arrested Monday after he admitted to receiving hundreds of millions of won from the businessman. Choi initially said the cash was used to cover the cost of conducting opinion polls during the president's election campaign, but he later reversed his remarks, saying it was used for private purposes.
The scandal has dealt another blow to the president, whose image has been seriously tarnished by a series of corruption scandals involving his high-level aides. Lee's single five-year term ends early next year and by law, he cannot seek re-election.
Prosecutors said they have summoned another key suspect in the case, a businessman named Lee Dong-jo, who allegedly helped Park manage the money through a bank account under his own name.
Prosecutors have questioned a bank employee suspected of handling the account and several officials at the Seoul municipal government in connection with the case.
Park was recently embroiled in a stock manipulation scandal related to a diamond mining project in Cameroon. He is also at the center of recently renewed allegations the government conducted illegal surveillance on civilians in the past. (Yonhap)