World

Bribery claims linked to officials close to South Korean President Park Geun-hye

In this April 9, 2015 photo, South Korean police officers carry the body of Sung Wan-jong in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean President Park Geun-hye faced charges Wednesday, April 15, 2015 that members of her administration received bribes from the businessman found dead in an apparent suicide last week. (Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap via AP) KOREA OUT

In this April 9, 2015 photo, South Korean police officers carry the body of Sung Wan-jong in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean President Park Geun-hye faced charges Wednesday, April 15, 2015 that members of her administration received bribes from the businessman found dead in an apparent suicide last week. (Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap via AP) KOREA OUT  (The Associated Press)

South Korean President Park Geun-hye faced charges Wednesday that members of her administration received bribes from a businessman found dead in an apparent suicide last week.

A Seoul prosecution official said that an investigation team has been formed to look into suspicions that Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo and presidential chief of staff Lee Byung Kee among other political figures received bribes from Sung Wan-jong, whose body was found with a note that listed names of eight individuals and alleged bribery sums.

Hours before he was found dead in the capital Seoul last Thursday, Sung said in a telephone interview with a local newspaper that he gave 30 million won ($27,390) to Prime Minister Lee in 2013, when Lee was then a candidate for Park's political party in a by-election.

Sung told the newspaper that he gave ruling party lawmaker Hong Moon Jong about 200 million won ($182,600) in 2012 with the understanding that the money would be used for Park's presidential election campaign. Other individuals Sung said he bribed include Lee Byung Kee and Park's former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon.

Those named by Sung in the interview and the note have denied the accusations, with Prime Minister Lee angrily declaring during a parliamentary session on Tuesday that he would "give up his life" if investigators find evidence that he had received bribes from Sung.

Opposition lawmakers have called for Lee and presidential chief of staff Lee Byung Kee to step down from their posts ahead of the investigation by the prosecution.

The scandal represents another setback for Park, who has seen her popularity drop amid criticism over allegations of corruption and lack of transparency in personnel decisions and state affairs.