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(LEAD) Assembly speaker indicted over party election bribery

All Headlines 17:10 February 21, 2012

(ATTN: REVISES throughout; ADDS more background)

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae was indicted without physical detention on Tuesday for bribing a fellow ruling party lawmaker before being elected as party chairman in 2008, prosecutors said.

Along with Park, they also indicted without detention Kim Hyo-jae, a former senior presidential aide, and Park's aide for helping Park give bribes to lawmaker Koh Seung-duk from the same Grand National Party, now renamed the Saenuri Party, in violation of the Political Party Law, prosecutors said as they wrapped up nearly two months of investigation.

The indictment of Park marks the first official charges ever brought against a parliamentary speaker.

Park insistently denied the bribery allegations since Koh first raised them in early January.

Koh said Park's aide brought to his office envelops containing 3 million won (US$2,671) in cash and Park's name card right before the July party convention in 2008. The whistle-blower lawmaker said he returned the money to Park's side.

When Koh raised the suspicion, he also suggested Park's election camp may have also bribed other lawmakers given that the unidentified aide who gave the bribe was carrying many other similar envelops suspected to have been containing cash.

But prosecutors noted in their Tuesday probe results that they could not trace the destinations, thus deciding only to raise official charges for Park's bribery to Koh.

Park was also suspected of distributing cash to some district party council members, but prosecutors also withdrew the suspicion, citing a lack of evidence.

"We were striving to find out which lawmakers other than Koh took bribes (from Park), but couldn't do it because of their reluctance to come out," a prosecution official said. "Investigations into bank accounts were also fruitless because the bribes were delivered in cash."

The political party law imposes up to three years of imprisonment or a fine of up to 6 million won for those who give financial gifts or other treats in order to muster votes in a party convention.

Park submitted his official resignation last week prior to facing the prosecutors' questioning, which took place at his official residence over the weekend.

After serving as party chairman from 2008 through 2009, Park dropped his party affiliation to become the parliamentary speaker in 2010.

Kim also resigned as a chief political-affairs secretary to President Lee Myung-bak earlier in the month before being summoned by prosecutors for playing a key role in the election bribery as a chief emergency monitoring aide for Park's election camp in 2008.

"The latest actions will serve as a change to root out the customary bribe giving (during party elections) shown in the sixty years of party politics," the prosecution official said. It is significant that we succeeded in filing charges against an assembly speaker and a presidential political-affairs secretary thorough the investigations, the official said, in response to some skepticism raised against their weaker-than-expected legal action.


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