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Prosecutors open new probe into key opposition figure as trial nears end

All Headlines 20:00 April 08, 2010

SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korean prosecutors on Thursday raided companies accused of providing illicit political funds to a former prime minister almost certain to run for Seoul mayor, just a day before a separate trial was set to end on bribery charges involving the senior opposition figure.

Prosecutors have already demanded a five-year jail term for Han Myeong-sook, indicted on charges of receiving US$50,000 from a local businessman while she was serving as prime minister under the previous liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration in late 2006.

Han, 56, has strenuously denied the allegations, accusing prosecutors of trying to taint her political reputation in the run-up to the June elections, seen by many as a bellwether for the conservative Lee Myung-bak government that took power in early 2008.

Just a day before a Seoul court was to rule on her charges, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said it raided two affiliated construction firms and their accounting firm as part of its probe into separate bribery allegations involving Han.

"We have been tipped off by someone with a stake in the case, even though a (separate) trial is under way," Kim Joo-hyun, a prosecutor, said. "We did what we had to do as an investigative organ."

One of the raided companies went bankrupt in March 2008. Creditors found its president had allegedly conducted suspicious transactions linked to Han in 2007, when she served as a lawmaker following her tenure as prime minister, according to prosecution officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Han now serves as a senior advisor to the opposition Democratic Party.

An aide to Han denied the new allegations, while her party accused prosecutors of trying to perpetuate a smear campaign against her as their earlier indictment appears to be drawing a lackluster response from judges.

Kwak Young-wook, a former CEO of Korea Express who had confessed to giving Han money, has repeatedly changed his testimony since the trial began. He has been arrested on embezzlement charges.


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