Former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo appeared before the prosecution on Thursday over allegations he received illegal political funds from deceased businessman Sung Woan-jong, two weeks after he stepped down from the nation's No. 2 post. Lee is the second of eight political heavyweights to be grilled over the burgeoning graft scandal.
Before entering the Seoul District Prosecutors' Office, Lee apologised to Korean citizens "regardless of the reason" for causing concern. But the former premier reiterated his earlier position that he would face the prosecutorial summons to prove his innocence.
"There is nothing that can defeat the truth. I will explain myself in detail to the prosecution," Lee told reporters before entering the prosecution's office. Lee's questioning lasted until 1:00 a.m. the next day. As he left the prosecutors' office, he reiterated that he did not receive any money from Sung.
He told reporters that he had "no memory" of a private meeting with Sung, which is when he is suspected to have received illegal political fund.
Sung claimed that the former premier received 30 million won (S$36,145) in illicit funds while running for a parliamentary seat in 2013. The revelation sparked a nationwide scandal that put the integrity of President Park Geun-hye's administration in doubt.
Despite claiming his innocence, the prosecution was expected to file charges against Lee this week for violating the political fund act. South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, who was called in for questioning last week will be indicted on the same charges, according to legal sources.
Besides Lee and Hong, six political bigwigs including Park's aides and members of the ruling Saenuri party are suspected to have illegally taken money from Sung, the former head of Keangnam Enterprises.
Prosecutors investigating the case are focusing on securing evidence and testimonies that the money was delivered to Lee during a private meeting with Sung at his election campaign office.
Lee initially denied the allegations and claimed he was not even close to Sung. But the former premier came under siege after he was found to have had over 200 phone conversations with Sung in one year.
He was also accused of lying as he made ambiguous and conflicting testimonies to the National Assembly.
In light of Lee's summons, his ruling party refrained from making public comment.
But Rep. Kim Young-woo, the party's chief spokesman, urged the prosecution to conduct a thorough investigation, saying "it would be the only way to carry out justice, and gain the trust of the people.
Party leader Kim Moo-sung simply said he was "heartbroken," and did not elaborate.
The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy urged the prosecution to get to the bottom of the corruption scandal. They have been stepping up the offensive against Saenuri for raising illegal election funds for the 2012 presidential election, when Park was a candidate for the ruling party.
"(The NPAD) would like to point out to the prosecution that the investigation should not stop at Hong and Lee. Sung's revelation is a suspicion cast on the highest powers," NPAD spokesman Kim Sung-soo said in a parliamentary briefing. "People of Korea will never condone attempts to cover up such an unprecedented scandal by scapegoating a couple of people."
Although the prosecution is making progress in its probe on Lee and Hong, the question remains on who the authorities may target next. Unlike the two, the investigators have yet to acquire solid proof or testimonies on allegations of the other six, according to sources.
The prosecution is expected to investigate a former Saenuri spokesman surnamed Kim, to whom a former Keangnam official Han has claimed to have given 200 million won.