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08SEOUL1207 2008-06-17 04:48 2011-08-30 01:44 비밀 주한 미국 대사관
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원문

C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000498 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/27/2019 
TAGS: KS KN PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: BIG NAMES IMPLICATED IN UNFOLDING BIPARTISAN 
BRIBERY SCANDAL 
 
Classified By: POL Joseph Y. Yun.  Reasons 1.4 (b,d). 
 
¶1.  (C) SUMMARY: Korea's latest political corruption scandal, 
slowly growing for months, picked up speed this week with the 
arrest of Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker Lee Kwang-jae and 
summonses issued for a number of politicians including Grand 
National Party (GNP) lawmaker Park Jin.  The allegations 
revolve around a Busan businessman, Park Yeon-cha, and his 
alleged illegal campaign contributions and bribes to some of 
Korea's most powerful politicians and tax and law enforcement 
officials.  At first the investigation appeared to be focused 
on politicians close to former President Roh Moo-hyun, but 
the scope of the investigation has expanded to as many as 70 
politicians from both sides of the political divide, 
including some close to President Lee Myung-bak.  How 
culpable many of the accused -- including Foreign Affairs 
Committee Chair Park Jin -- are remains unclear, but these 
allegations will not soon be put to rest and will likely 
unsettle the National Assembly -- and Korean politics -- for 
some time.  END SUMMARY. 
 
----------------------------- 
Background Notes on a Scandal 
----------------------------- 
 
¶2.  (SBU) The scandal started in the summer of 2008 with a 
tax probe into Busan-based shoe manufacturer Taekwang 
Industrial and its Chairman Park Yeon-cha, who made his 
fortune by supplying athletic shoes to Nike.  In July, tax 
investigators raided Park's office and confiscated 
confidential documents and account books.  One of Park's 
secretaries provided details on his meetings, telephone 
conversations, and secret deals with some of the country's 
most influential men.  Also uncovered was a document 
recording a loan of 1.5 billion Korean won from Park to 
former President Roh Moo-hyun.  In November the National Tax 
Service handed the case over to prosecutors, asking that Park 
be indicted for tax evasion and insider trading. 
 
----------------------- 
Progressives Fall First 
----------------------- 
 
¶3.  (SBU) As the investigation progressed, aides to former 
president Roh Moo-hyun were implicated, and Park is now 
believed to have been one of Roh's major financial sponsors; 
the two men hail from Busan and have been close associate for 
decades.  On March 25, prosecutors arrested Roh's former Vice 
Minister of Public Administration Chang In-tae for allegedly 
taking 800 million won (USD 587,251) in illegal political 
funds from Park for Chang's 2004 South Gyeongsang Province 
gubernatorial bid.  Park claimed that Roh's elder brother, 
Roh Gun-pyeong (also under arrest), called Park to request 
assistance with Chang's campaign.  On March 23 Roh's former 
Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs Park Jung-kyu was detained 
for questioning and later placed under arrest for accepting 
100 million won (USD 73,421) in gift certificates while 
working for President Roh.  Other progressive politicians 
under investigation include: 
 
--Lee Kwang-jae, DP lawmaker with close ties to Roh Moo-hyun, 
detained for receiving illegal political funds worth over 200 
million won (USD 146,842); 
--Suh Gap-won, DP representative and Senior Vice-Floor 
Leader, alleged to have received tens of thousands of dollars 
in illicit funds; 
--Choi Cheol-kook, DP lawmaker, alleged to have received 
illicit funds; 
--Kim Hyuck-kyu, former South Gyeongsang governor; 
--Lee Jeong-wook, former Korea Maritime Institute head, 
detained for receiving illicit funds. 
 
----------------------------- 
Conservatives Far From Immune 
----------------------------- 
 
¶4.  (C) What originally seemed like a probe targeting only 
the progressives, soon included allegations directed at a 
number of high-profile GNP politicians.  Most notably was the 
prosecutors' summons on March 26 of Park Jin, GNP 
Representative and Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and 
 
Unification (FATU) Committee.  Park Jin's Chief of Staff 
(COS) confirmed on March 27 that the prosecutor's office had 
summoned Park Jin for questioning with regard to the 
unfolding bribery scandal.  Park's COS told poloff that the 
allegations against Park Jin were unfounded, and the COS was 
confident that Park Jin had nothing to worry about.  The FATU 
Committee's COS said he spoke to Park Jin March 27 and 
described him as angry at being summoned for questioning but 
resolute in denying involvement in the scandal. 
Representative Park apparently plans to file defamation 
charges.  The FATU COS was, nevertheless, concerned by the 
potential for the scandal to ensnare the committee's chairman. 
 
¶5.  (SBU) Also on March 26, prosecutors announced that they 
were investigating former GNP lawmaker and current Ambassador 
to Japan Kwon Chul-hyeon.  Kwon served three terms 
representing Busan, and is known to be a strong supporter of 
President Lee.  Cho Boo-kil, a former public relations 
secretary for both President Lee and his older brother, 
Representative Lee Sang-deuk, was arrested on charges of 
taking money from Park and for trying to halt the tax probe 
into Park's company.  Other conservative politicians under 
investigation include: 
 
--Huh Tae-yeol, GNP Representative, alleged to have received 
illicit funds; 
--Kwon Kyung-seok, GNP Representative, alleged to have 
received illicit funds; 
--Song Eun-bok, former Gimhae Mayor, detained for receiving 
illicit funds. 
 
---------------- 
Busan Connection 
---------------- 
 
¶6.  (C) The scandal primarily involves politicians grounded 
in South Gyeongsang Province and Busan, but an unconfirmed 
news report claims the investigation is targeting as many as 
70 people, including several former and incumbent 
prosecutors.  An aide to GNP Representative Chung Doo-hwan 
told poloffs that everyone in Busan, regardless of party 
affiliation, is involved in this scandal.  In fact, the 
contact noted, Park was more tied to the conservatives, but 
supported Roh and the DP when it was in power until last 
year.  Overseas locations are also involved, and prosecutors 
allege that many politicians -- including Park Jin and Lee 
Kwang-jae -- accepted money through a New York restaurateur. 
Some politicians are alleged to have also received funds in 
Vietnam. 
 
----------------------------- 
Political Motivation Unlikely 
----------------------------- 
 
¶7.  (C) Speculation is swirling about possible political 
motivations for the investigation.  The DP has claimed that 
the probe is part of a Blue House effort to eradicate pro-Roh 
elements of the opposition.  These allegations have failed to 
gain momentum, however, as prosecutors began to implicate 
conservative politicians.  Some within the GNP think the Blue 
House is trying to undermine supporters of the President's 
conservative rival Park Geun-hye and claim that both Lee 
Sang-deuk and Kim Young-ho also received money but are not 
being investigated because of their close ties to the 
administration.  With the number and range of politicians 
involved, however, it is doubtful that any one party or 
faction will emerge from this scandal unscathed. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
¶8.  (C) Korean politics is no stranger to corruption, but the 
Park Yeon-cha scandal is the largest and most wide-ranging in 
quite some time.  One politician -- Lee Kwang-jae -- has 
already fallen victim and more are sure to follow.  While it 
is likely the probe started with former President Roh's 
aides, it is also likely that nobody, not even the Blue 
House, could control the investigation once it was underway. 
Now that it is the top news story, prosecutors are forced to 
follow through and the Blue House cannot appear to be 
 
intervening.  Undoubtedly, the scandal will dominate the next 
National Assembly session set to start on April 2.  In fact, 
between the scandal and the upcoming by-elections -- not to 
mention ongoing discussions about media reform and KORUS FTA 
-- it is difficult to see how politicians will find the time 
to focus on legislation. 
STEPHENS