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S. Korean Corruption Probe Targets Many Prominent Politicians - 2004-01-09

South Korean officials have detained a former presidential aide in a widening multi-million dollar corruption scandal involving both major parties. Prosecutors are also targeting seven opposition politicians and the chairman of the country's third largest conglomerate.

South Korean newscasts, such as this one, led programs Friday with the latest chapter in a growing campaign financing scandal.

President Roh Moo-hyun's former campaign chief was splashed across television screens as he was arrested and led away under the glare of dozens of cameras.

Chyung Dai-chul, who denied any wrongdoing, is in custody, accused of taking more than a half million dollars in bribes from construction companies.

He is by no means the only high-profile official under investigation or detained for illegally funding the 2002 presidential campaign.

Several of President Roh's former aides and allies were indicted last month.

The opposition has not escaped scrutiny. Son Kil-seung, head of the huge SK conglomerate, is accused of giving the opposition Grand National Party more than $8 million in illegal contributions.

Mr. Son said he will cooperate fully with prosecutors.

Seven opposition lawmakers have also been targeted in the probe, prompting the Grand National Party to say the government investigation is biased.

Choe Byung-yul, GNP chairman, says the probe is politically motivated and prosecutors are trying to influence the upcoming April parliamentary elections.

Opposition complaints have led to the appointment of an independent counsel to conduct a second probe, which is just getting underway.

The man President Roh defeated in 2002, the GNP's Lee Hoi-chang, has admitted to taking $43 million in illegal campaign contributions and says he is ready to go to prison.

Mr. Roh, who denies any personal wrongdoing, has said he would resign if the probe proves his party took more than a tenth of what was accepted by the opposition.