Son of South Korean president arrested in bribery scandal

Sunday, May 19, 2002

By Soo-Jeong Lee ~ The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea-- South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung's youngest son was arrested Saturday for allegedly taking bribes, dealing another blow to the credibility of his Nobel peace laureate father.

Kim Hong-gul, 39, who lives in Los Angeles but had returned to Seoul to answer charges, is accused of receiving millions of dollars in bribes last year from a businessman who is now in jail.

Television footage showed him leaving the state prosecutor's office late Saturday. "I am sorry to have caused concern to many people," he said before heading toward a Seoul prison.

"I am sorry," he said, when asked by a reporter what he had to say to his parents.

The scandal is likely to tarnish the legacy of Kim Dae-jung, a former pro-democracy activist who campaigned for the presidency on an anti-corruption platform. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for helping improve ties with communist North Korea.

Kim has not been implicated in any scandal, but he has had to apologize for financial wrongdoing by officials in his government. His second oldest son, Kim Hong-up, is also suspected of having received bribes, but prosecutors have yet to question him. Kim has three sons.

Earlier this month, the president quit his ruling Millennium Democratic Party and apologized for recent scandals. He said he wanted to move away from domestic politics and concentrate on state affairs.

Opposition legislators have seized on the scandals to question Kim's moral authority at a time when the president is trying to focus on the smooth staging of the World Cup soccer tournament that starts May 31. South Korea and Japan are co-hosts.

Kim's single five-year term ends in February, and by law he cannot seek re-election. Presidential elections will be held in December.

A judge issued an arrest warrant for Kim Hong-gul while he was at the state prosecutor's office in Seoul. He was immediately arrested. If convicted of bribery, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

"The case will be dealt by law and President Kim will continue to firmly focus on state affairs," the Yonhap news agency quoted presidential spokesman Park Sun-sook as saying.

The president has not seen his son since he returned from Los Angeles earlier this week to face allegations involving Choi Kyu-sun, a lobbyist under arrest on bribery charges. Choi allegedly bribed Hong-gul to help a lottery operator, Tiger Pools Korea, win a sports lottery license in early 2001.

Local media quoted prosecutors as saying that Hong-gul acknowledged receiving at least $2.1 million from Choi and other businessmen. The prosecutors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hong-gul denied that he had peddled influence in return for the money.

Hong-gul has become the second son of an incumbent South Korean president to face criminal charges. Kim Hyun-chul, second son of former President Kim Young-sam, was arrested in 1997 on bribery and tax-evasion charges. He served six months in jail.

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