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Prosecution Focus on Lobbying on Merger of KIA

Posted November. 17, 2005 07:58,   


As the prosecution summoned former South Korean ambassador to the U.S. Hong Seok-hyun on November 16, the so-called “X-file” probe has reached a critical turning point.

The result of the investigation into the former ambassador seems to determine the direction of a further scrutiny, including the question of whether to call in Lee Kun-hee, chairman of the Samsung Group.

Will the chairman of Korea’s largest conglomerate be summoned?

The prosecution will question Mr. Hong in order to find out whether Samsung offered illegal political funding for presidential candidates in 1997, if he provided the illegal funds with prosecutors, and whether the three billion won found in a case in which the Bokwang Group evaded taxes in 1999 was, in fact, the money he embezzled from the Samsung Group’s fund.

The biggest concern is whether Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee will be summoned. The wiretapped conversations of the National Intelligence Service imply that the chairman masterminded the entire scandal.

The summons, however, has little possibility of occurring. It is highly likely that the former ambassador will deny even the eavesdropped conversations just as Lee Hak-soo, head of Samsung`s restructuring office, already did in the probe. What’s worse, the count of violation of the political funding law passed the 3-year statute of limitations. In other words, there is no ground to summon the chairman in reality.

This is why it is widely considered that the summons for Mr. Hong will only end up as a formal act to wrap up the case.

Still, there remain 10 years for a count of bribery if the Samsung Group had violated the law in lobbying to merge Kia Motors, which can encourage the prosecution to eagerly investigate the case with a ray of hope.

A mess at Hong’s appearance.

Hong’s appearance turned into a mess when Democratic Labor Party members made a sudden protest. When the former envoy to the U.S. appeared near the photo line before the Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office at 10:00 a.m., seven to eight members of the Democratic Labor Party rushed to him holding banners reading, “Punish Hong.”

Dozens of photographers and reporters, waiting to take photos of his summons outside the photo line, also jumped in the line for photos, creating a mess among Mr. Hong, protestors, and reporters before the building entrance.

Although the former envoy managed to enter the building and tried to keep a smile in a rush, he was surely embarrassed. He shortly commented that he would detail before the prosecution and headed to the room for questioning.

Jin-Kyun Kil leon@donga.com