S Korean key graft suspect found dead in apparent suicide

S Korean key graft suspect found dead in apparent suicide

Police on Thursday afternoon found the body of a former construction firm chairman accused of embezzling government subsidies and company funds about seven hours after he was reported missing.

The body of Sung Woan-jong, former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises, was found hanging from a tree some 300 meters from a ticket booth in Mount Bukhansan. A suicide note was found at his home.

Sung's death comes just days after prosecutors charged him of embezzling 80 billion won (S$99.4 million) in government subsidies obtained by inflating accounting records. Officials also accused Sung of swindling those funds. He had denied the charges at a teary news conference on Wednesday.

Sung's death is expected to impede prosecutorial probes into alleged scandals surrounding the former Lee Myung-bak government's policy of investing trillions in tax money in energy development projects abroad in early 2010.

Prosecutors had hoped Sung's extensive networks in both business and politics would provide evidence linking the Korea Resources Corporation, Korea National Oil Corporation, and Korea Gas Corporation to alleged bribery violations and influence peddling scandals.

Former President Lee's resource policy had aimed to lessen energy-poor Korea's dependence on natural resource imports by increasing investments in overseas energy projects.

But prosecutors are looking into long-held suspicions that some Lee administration officials had swindled public money in backroom deals with foreign companies under the guise of the energy policy.

The National Assembly is also conducting its own probe into the Lee administration's energy policy.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded President Lee testify at the legislature, while some governing Saenuri Party lawmakers criticised the probe as being politically motivated.

Sung, a former Saenuri Party lawmaker, had called the investigations a politically-charged witch hunt.

"Many other companies had participated in resource development projects (under the Lee administration) at the time," he added. "I do not understand why only we are being targeted."

Sung was last seen at his home at 5:10 a.m. on Thursday. His driver and son notified police after finding the suicide note. Sung also did not appear for a court hearing later in the morning. Judges were to decide if prosecutors could detain Sung on related charges.

Earlier Thursday, about 1,300 officers, police dogs, military personnel, and helicopters were deployed to Pyeongchang-dong, a district in northwestern Seoul, and its surrounding areas, as Sung's phone was last reported in the area, according to telecommunications signals, police said.

Police also found closed-circuit television camera footage showing Sung hiking up the mountain near the Pyeongchang-dong police office a few hours after he was reported missing.

Prosecutors expressed regret over Sung's death and sent words of condolence to his bereaved family.

Sung was a businessman-turned politician. Born into poverty in the midst of the Korean War in 1951, Sung was an elementary school drop-out and a self-made entrepreneur.

He earned a seat in the Assembly in the 2012 parliamentary elections. He lost his seat last June when the Supreme Court fined him 5 million won for violating election laws.

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