(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; REWRITES paras 2-5 with updates on panel's decision; TRIMS)
By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- A review panel under the Ministry of Justice requested on Monday that a reinvestigation be launched into a high-profile sex bribery case involving a former vice justice minister.
The independent panel announced the decision following hours of its own deliberations on renewed suspicions that former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-ui received sexual services from a local developer and raped women at a sex party hosted by him.
The panel also recommended a probe into Kwak Sang-do, former presidential secretary for civil affairs and now an opposition lawmaker, and another former presidential official over their alleged involvement in the attempt to tone down the past investigations.
The panel was briefed by a fact-finding team of the Supreme Prosecutors' Office over its new findings on the allegations, including fresh testimonies that were not included in previous probes.
The panel's decision will be formally relayed to Justice Minister Park Sang-ki, who has the final say on the reinvestigation.
Kim, 63, resigned as vice minister over the scandal in March 2013, only six days after he took office.
Prosecutors investigated the allegations twice between 2013 and 2014 and cleared him of the charges both times, sparking suspicions that someone powerful, possibly the presidential office, may have been protecting him.
Such suspicions gathered more ground when police officers who had investigated Kim either stepped down from their posts or were demoted.
The fact-finding team is said to have obtained fresh testimonies from the police investigator, who claims there had been implicit pressure to cover up the case.
Legal experts have called for the prosecution to dig into bribery allegations that may have been overlooked in the past probes. The fact-finding team reportedly made the same recommendation to the panel.
If convicted, a public official accepting 100 million won (US$88,200) or more in bribes is punishable by at least 10 years and up to life in prison. The offense also has a statute of limitations of 15 years, meaning that prosecuting Kim and other suspects may still be possible.
The allegations became known to the public after a video clip that was leaked during an adultery probe against the local developer, Yoon Jung-cheon, showed a drunken orgy at the remote Wonju villa in which a group of men, including one believed to be Kim, were having a sex party with about 30 women.
Yoon was suspected to have sought business favors from government officials and other influential figures by providing them sex services. Investigators also suspected illegal substances may have been used by those who frequented Yoon's estate for such events.
Kim is reported to have sought to travel overseas last week but was stopped after the Justice Ministry placed an "emergency" travel ban on him.
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