SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean President Park Geun-hye faced allegations Wednesday that members of her administration received bribes from a businessman found dead in an apparent suicide last week.
Park quickly moved to distance herself from the potentially embarrassing scandal and backed an investigation launched by prosecutors.
A prosecution official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of office rules, said a team has been formed to look into accusations that Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo, presidential Chief of Staff Lee Byung Kee and other political figures received bribes from Sung Wan-jong, whose body was found with a note that listed the names of eight people and alleged bribery amounts.
"We should see this as an opportunity to reveal the problems that have marred our politics from the past to the present for the purpose of reform," Park said in a meeting of Cabinet ministers. She called for a thorough investigation, vowing not to forgive anyone guilty of corruption.
Prime Minister Lee did not attend the meeting, which was held to discuss policies related to public safety ahead of the first anniversary of a ferry disaster on Thursday.
Hours before he was found dead in Seoul last Thursday, Sung said in a telephone interview with the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper that he gave 30 million won ($27,390) to Prime Minister Lee in 2013, when Lee was a candidate for Park's political party in a by-election.
Sung told the newspaper he also gave ruling party lawmaker Hong Moon Jong about 200 million won ($182,600) in 2012 with the understanding that it would be used for Park's presidential election campaign. Other people Sung said he bribed included 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 in the National Assembly on Tuesday that he would "give up his life" if investigators find evidence that he received bribes from Sung.
Opposition lawmakers have called for Lee and Chief of Staff Lee Byung Kee to step down from their posts ahead of the investigation by prosecutors.
The scandal is another setback for Park, who has seen her popularity drop amid allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency in personnel decisions and state affairs.