National
Lee stymied by probes on closest aides
Published : Sep 26, 2011 - 19:33
Updated : Sep 26, 2011 - 19:34
President’s top aides facing possible imprisonment ahead of Seoul by-election


President Lee Myung-bak is facing his biggest controversy since the mass demonstrations over U.S. beef imports in 2008, with one of his top aides facing possible imprisonment over graft allegations and another to be subpoenaed soon.

Both are former journalists ― one jumped into Lee’s election camp in 2007 and the other has helped Lee design his political path since the late 1990s.

Thriving as a businessman scoring construction deals from Indonesia to the Middle East through the 1970s and 80s, Lee never was a fan of politics. His two years as a lawmaker ― until he resigned in 1998 over violation of election law and fled to Washington D.C. ― weren’t full of happy memories either.

It was in D.C. he met a number of rookie politicians such as Hong Joon-pyo, now ruling Grand National Party leader, and journalists including Shin Jae-min.
Shin, who served as vice minister of culture until August last year, provided political advice to Lee as he went on to be elected Seoul mayor in 2002 and then as president in 2007. 
Kim Du-woo, Shin Jae-min (Yonhap News)

Lee is now too disappointed to say anything about a troubled businessman’s claims, which were made public during the president’s trip to the U.S. last week, that he gave Shin more than a billion won over the past nine years.

Lee Kuk-chul, chairman of SLS Group, who is disgruntled by prosecutorial probes into his companies’ alleged slush funds, is expected to provide the prosecution with evidence such as corporate credit card receipts to back his claims. The 50-year-old chairman is set to be summoned for questioning this week for the second time. The prosecution is also likely to summon Shin for interrogation this week.

Coming just days after senior presidential secretary Kim Du-woo was subpoenaed by the prosecution on allegations that he received over 100 million won from another lobbyist hired by a savings bank facing suspension, the news shook the presidential office. The Justice Ministry is scheduled to decide whether to issue a warrant to detain Kim Tuesday.

The presidential office said it found Lee’s claims groundless.

“Apart from the figures currently under prosecutorial investigation, the Cheong Wa Dae officials mentioned by media have been screened,” presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha told reporters Monday.

Park denied Lee’s claim that he “recently” filed a petition to the presidential office in which he threatened to expose his financial sponsorship of Shin, but acknowledged that he did make an appeal to Cheong Wa Dae last year, which was transferred to a national rights watchdog.

Lee Kuk-chul has also said that he provided entertainment worth about 5 million won for Park Young-joon, former vice minister for government policy at the Prime Minister’s Office, during his trip to Japan. Park denied the claim, saying he will seek legal action against Lee.

Lee also said that, through Shin, he gave gift certificates to presidential secretary for policy publicity Lim Jae-hyun and chief of a presidential council Kwak Seung-joon, which both Lim and Kwak denied.

A Cheong Wa Dae official said most of the claims by Lee will be found untrue once the prosecution’s investigations are over.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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