Korean parties remain engulfed in graft scandal furor

Korean parties remain engulfed in graft scandal furor
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo (C)

The National Assembly remained nearly paralysed on Wednesday as rival parties continued to clash over the deceased businessman's graft scandal, despite the resignation offer by Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo the day before.

The Assembly's plenary session slated for Thursday was cancelled as of Wednesday afternoon, which the opposition claimed was an attempt by the Saenuri Party to stave off the opposition's attack against key members of the ruling party and top government officials embroiled in the prosecution probe.

Lee offered his resignation late Monday night over an escalating graft scandal involving three past and current presidential secretaries among others accused of accepting illegal campaign funds from the late construction mogul Sung Woan-jong multiple times since 2007.

A number of key bills and discussions including those on the reform of public service pension, labour market, and initiatives aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship remain shelved.

In an apparent attempt to water down the scandal, the Saenuri Party vowed to accelerate political and economic reforms, proposing high-level talks on public service pension reforms President Park Geun-hye, currently on a Latin American tour, also urged prosecutors Tuesday to use ongoing graft probes to end corruption.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, however, shot down the proposal immediately, saying that it was a mere attempt to shield from growing public criticism over the corruption allegations ahead of the April 29 parliamentary by-elections.

The NPAD, instead, vowed the scandal "was only getting started."

The party reiterated their calls for a parliamentary hearing on the scandal before the by-elections.

Saenuri Party lawmakers have opposed the proposal and have expressed holding the hearing after the polls, apparently worried the scandal could adversely influence voter sentiments.

The Sung scandal began on April 9, when the businessman claimed in an interview with a local daily to have given illegal campaign funds to officials with close ties to Park, hours before police found him dead in an apparent suicide in the woods of northern Seoul.

Prosecutors had been probing Sung, the ex-chief of Keangnam Enterprises, for allegedly swindling government subsidies.

He had denied the allegations and called the investigations against him a witch-hunt sponsored by corrupt Park officials such as Lee.

Investigations into Sung's claims intensified in the early hours Wednesday when prosecutors detained Park Joon-ho, a former top Sung aide, for allegedly tampering with evidence.

Park had tried to erase evidence backing Sung's graft allegations, authorities said. They also suspect Park could be withholding information on how and when Sung had allegedly given illegal campaign funds to the accused officials of Park.

Prosecutors also raided the home and car of Sung's first son in search of evidence supporting the claims.

Authorities also obtained the original suicide note Sung had left at his home, hours before law enforcement found him dead.

The Saenuri Party, meanwhile, criticised the opposition's alleged links to Sung during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

President Roh had pardoned Sung in 2005 and 2007, after the businessman had been charged with embezzlement and misappropriation of corporate funds.

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