Prosecutors on Monday launched an investigation into 800 million won (S$11 million) in funds that are suspected to have been delivered by a now-deceased businessman to four political heavyweights.
They have formed a special team to investigate the case sparked by a memo left by Sung Woan-jong, a former businessman and lawmaker who was facing prosecution probe into irregularities, before he committed suicide last Thursday.
Eight political heavy hitters, including President Park Geun-hye's former and incumbent aides, were included on the list, suggesting that they received money from Sung.
The 10-person team, headed by Daejeon's chief prosecutor Moon Moo-il, will investigate whether or not the funds had indeed been given to the four men ― South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok, Saenuri lawmaker Rep. Hong Moon-jong and Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo ― in 2011-2012 by Sung as suspected. Among the four, the first to be investigated will be Gov. Hong, the prosecution said.
The four are suspected of having received the money from Sung to spend in the ruling party's leadership race in 2011 and the 2012 presidential election campaign. Rep. Hong, in particular, managed President Park's election campaign in 2012.
Sung, the former head of local builder Keangnam Enterprises, was found dead Thursday just hours before a court was to issue an arrest warrant for his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal related to a resource development project carried out by the Lee Myung-bak administration.
"We will make every effort to thoroughly investigate the case that is the subject of the nation's widespread suspicion," Moon told reporters Monday.
The team received investigation data gathered by the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office that had been probing allegations of Keangnam's irregularities, including Sung's phone logs, bank accounts, and documents seized during the search of the company. The team will also check the call records of two mobile phones that Sung used until he committed suicide.
Investigation will also focus on the whereabouts of 3.2 billion won in cash that had been withdrawn from Keangnam's business account on 370 occasions between 2007 and 2014.
In his suicide note, Sung listed names of eight key politicians, including the four, along with the money amounts.
In the note, Gov. Hong was alleged to have received 100 million won, Yoo 300 million won, and Rep. Hong and Suh 200 million won each.
Sung's memo also included names of President Park's former chiefs of staff Kim Ki-choon and Huh Tae-yeol, along with Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo.
Local daily Kyunghyang Shinmun last week revealed a voice recording of Sung's interview in which he argued he handed $100,000 won and 700 million won to Kim and Huh, respectively.
Both of Park's former chiefs of staff and governor Hong on Monday vowed to co-operate with the prosecution probe, while denying the allegations.
"If Sung were alive, I would confront him and let the public know the truth," Park's former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon said in an interview with a local radio station on Monday. He said all the claims were "fictional."
"But since that is not an option, I feel rather perplexed."