S Korean prime minister offers to resign over bribery scandal

Updated: 2015-04-21 09:14


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S Korean prime minister offers to resign over bribery scandal

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo (L) bows to a relative (R) of a victim onboard sunken ferry Sewol, at the official memorial altar for the victims in Ansan on the occasion of the first anniversary of the ferry disaster that killed more than 300 passengers, April 16, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

SEOUL -- South Korean Prime Minister Lee Wan- koo offered to President Park Geun-hye his resignation as the second-highest administrative post amid growing suspicion that he was involved in a bribery scandal, Yonhap News Agency reported Tuesday citing a senior official of the ruling Saenuri Party.

The official was quoted as saying that Lee expressed his resignation to President Park, who is on her trip to Latin American nations, after deep considerations as his resignation may cause vacuum in state affairs management while the president is on a state visit.

Both the prime minister's office and the presidential office officially confirmed the resignation offer.

The cabinet meeting, which was originally scheduled to be presided over by Prime Minister Lee, will be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Choi Kyung-hwan.

Before leaving for Latin America on April 16 for a 12-day state visit, President Park said she would decide on Lee's fate after returning home from the travel early next week.

Lee's offer to step down came amid the mounting suspicion that he received 30 million won ($28,000) in bribes from a businessman who killed himself on April 9.

Sung Wan-jong, the former ruling party lawmaker and businessman running a mid-sized construction company, left a list of heavyweight politicians and close aides to President Park after hanging himself amid the prosecution probe into his embezzlement allegations.

Sung was charged with embezzlement and engaging in corruption of the so-called energy diplomacy, advocated under the former President Lee Myung-back. He committed suicide on the day when he was presumed to appear in a court to determine the validity of arrest warrant for him.

The memo, which was found from a trouser pocket of Sung, involved names and currency figures next to the names, which strongly indicated bribes delivered to them.

It dropped a bombshell in the political arena as the names involved eight powerful politicians, including former presidential chiefs of staff Kim Ki-choon and Hug Tae-yeol, and current presidential chief of staff Lee Byung-kee as well as the prime minister.

Handwritten next to Hug's name was 700 million won, and next to Kim was $100,000 with the date of Sept. 26, 2006, around when he accompanied Park on her visit to Belgium and Germany. There were no currency figures next to the names of the prime minister and the incumbent presidential chief of staff.

The prosecutors' office formed a special team to investigate the scandal, and President Park ordered prosecutors to strictly deal with the case in accordance with law and principle without sanctuary.

Prime Minister Lee has denied his involvement in the bribery, but the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said Monday that it will take actions to impeach Lee as he may hamper the prosecution investigation in his capacity as a sitting prime minister.

Calls for his resignation came even from ruling party lawmakers. Seven lawmakers of the Saenuri Party urged Lee to step down as his retention of the post would weigh down on the president's state management.