S. Korea’s speaker rocked by cash-for-vote allegation


SEOUL — South Korean prosecutors Wednesday raided the home of a former aide to Parliament Speaker Park Hee-Tae amid a bribery scandal rocking the ruling conservative party before elections this year. Investigators also questioned the aide about whether he delivered envelopes of cash to lawmakers before a 2008 party convention, at which Park — who denies bribery — was elected chairman of the Grand National Party (GNP). The affair came to light this month when GNP lawmaker Koh Seung-Duk said that in 2008 he received an envelope containing three million won (US$2,600) and Park’s name card from a man believed to be Park’s aide. Koh said the man was carrying shopping bags full of similar envelopes.

“He must have been making the rounds, doling out cash to GNP lawmakers” to win votes, the legislator told journalists on Monday, adding he had returned his own envelope to Park’s office. Hong Joon-Pyo, elected GNP chairman in 2010 to succeed Park, said this week it was “customary” for envelopes of cash to change hands at GNP conventions. In television interviews Hong said the 2007 convention to nominate its presidential candidate was also marked by cash handouts. Lee Myung-Bak defeated his rival Park Geun-Hye to win the nomination and eventually become president.

“Neither Lee nor Park (Geun-Hye) can be free from allegations of vote-buying,” Hong said. The GNP is battling to keep its parliamentary majority in an April general election and to retain the presidency in December, although Lee himself is constitutionally barred from standing again. In a shock result, the GNP lost the Seoul mayoralty last October to an opposition-backed left-leaning candidate, and is now trying to shed its image as a party for the rich. As part of reform measures its emergency council Wednesday even proposed removing the word “conservative” from its platform, as surveys show growing voter discontent with social and economic inequality. The latest exposure deepened factional infighting between President Lee’s party supporters and those of GNP interim leader Park Geun-Hye, the likeliest presidential candidate. The main opposition Democratic United Party Wednesday introduced a parliamentary resolution calling for Speaker Park’s resignation. But the opposition party also has skeletons in its closet, according to a former health minister, Rhyu Si-Min, who said he had seen cash envelopes circulating during its conventions in the past.