Posted : 2017-01-12 14:55
Updated : 2017-01-12 18:32

Special prosecutor zeros in on SK Group chairman over 'suspicious' pardon

Chey Tae-won answers questions from reporters as he is being pardoned from Uijeongbu prison on Aug. 14, 2015. / Korea Times file

By Lee Han-soo

The special prosecution team investigating Korean President Park Geun-hye's corruption scandal has set its crosshairs on SK Group, which allegedly financially supported Park's confidant Choi Soon-sil in return for pardoning group Chairman Chey Tae-won.

The prosecutors are investigating a taped conversation between Chey and the conglomerate's vice CEO Kim Young-tae in a prison in the city of Uijeongbu on Aug. 10, 2015.

"‘Supreme chairman' has decided to ‘come home,'" Kim said to Chey in the recording, using phrases the prosecutors suspect were code words. "Our burden has also increased. The chairman has given us a ‘certain task.'"

The prosecutors suspect that "supreme chairman" is a reference to President Park, while "come home" means the pardoning of Chey, and "certain task" indicates a form of payment.

It has been confirmed that the Chairman of SK Supex, the group's decision-making body, asked President Park for Chey's pardon just 17 days before the recording.

Five days after the recording, Chey was released in a special amnesty on the 71st anniversary of National Liberation Day on Aug. 15.

The prosecutors are speculating that 11.1 billion won ($9.38 million) given to the Mir and K-Sports foundations in October 2015 and January 2016 is connected with Chey's pardon.

SK Group confirmed the tape but denied allegations of the company's financial support linked to Choi Soon-sil.

"It is true that the chairman of SK Supex asked President Park for Chey's pardon," an SK Group official told the Chosun Ilbo, a Korean news outlet. "However, ‘burden' or ‘task' mentioned in the recorded tape refer to revitalizing the economy. This was mentioned when the government announced the pardon."

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