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Former S. Korean PM Indicted for Receiving Illegal Funds - 2004-05-31


State prosecutors in South Korea have indicted a former Prime Minister on charges of taking illegal political funds during the 2002 presidential election.

Former South Korean Prime Minister Lee Han-Dong was indicted on Monday for allegedly receiving about $170,000 in illegal campaign contributions from the SK Group, one of the country's largest conglomerates.

The prosecutor general's office in Seoul says despite the indictment, it is not taking Mr. Lee into custody.

The former prime minister, who is a veteran lawmaker, ran for president in 2002.

Also indicted on Monday was National Assembly member Eom Ho-sung of the main opposition Grand National Party, or GNP. He is accused of accepting slush funds.

The indictments are the result of a nine-month corruption investigation. The charges center on illegal donations by businesses to politicians - and political parties - during the last presidential campaign.

Authorities previously arrested about 30 lawmakers, campaign chiefs and aides to the two main candidates of the last election - the current president, Roh Moo-Hyun of the ruling party, and Lee Hoi-Chang of the GNP.

Prosecutors declined earlier this month to take any action against either man, saying they were not directly linked to the illegal donations.

Some commentators in South Korea have suggested that such leniency to top political figures may prompt public criticism of the prosecutor's office. But President Roh's supporters say the prosecution succeeded in cleaning up politics by uncovering massive corruption.

The investigation also looked into South Korea's largest conglomerates, and senior executives of the SK group, Samsung and Hyundai Motor have been indicted.

Investigators say business leaders told them they felt pressured to make the illicit contributions, fearing political reprisals if they refused.

Meanwhile on Monday, South Korea's Supreme Court upheld the results of the 2002 election in which Mr. Roh defeated Mr. Lee.

The high court threw out a civic group's lawsuit to nullify the election results.

The National Assembly, at the time dominated by the opposition, impeached President Roh in mid-March but South Korea's Constitutional Court overturned the move earlier this month and Mr. Roh returned to his office after weeks in self-imposed isolation.

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