+ A

Ex-vice minister, contractor sent to trial in sex party case

June 05,2019
Prosecutors on Tuesday indicted former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui on Tuesday for receiving sexual favors and bribes totaling 170 million won ($143,600), wrapping up an investigation into one of Korea’s biggest sex scandals.

Kim, who served as the No. 2 official in the Justice Ministry for just six days in March 2013, was referred to trial along with construction contractor Yun Jung-cheon, who was indicted on fraud and rape charges.

The two men are already under detention after local courts approved warrants for their arrests last month.

The former deputy minister is accused of frequenting Yun’s private villa in Wonju, Gangwon, as well as other apartments in southern Seoul, where he allegedly received sexual favors from multiple women on 13 different occasions from July 2006 to December 2007.

Kim is also believed to have received a total of 31 million won from Yun in the form of cash, checks and valuables like a painting and luxury clothing, and convinced Yun to clear up a 100 million won debt owed by a woman surnamed Lee to Yun. In return, prosecutors believe Kim tried to lift pressure on Yun in a criminal investigation he was facing.

Separately, prosecutors believe Kim allegedly took 39.5 million in bribes from another businessman surnamed Choi from August 2003 to May 2011.

Kim received a credit card from Choi to which he charged around 25.6 million won in personal expenses, as well as a mobile phone that he ran up a bill of 4.6 million won on, prosecutors said.

Lee, who testified to prosecutors that she provided sexual services to Kim many times on Yun’s behest, was key to reopening an investigation into the two suspects based on her claims that she was drugged, raped and videotaped by Kim and Yun.

Yet prosecutors were unable to pin Kim with the rape charge they laid against Yun due to a lack of evidence that Kim was directly involved in Lee’s rape.

On the other hand, prosecutors said they had evidence that Yun repeatedly beat Lee and threatened her with video footage he had of her having sex before he raped her on three occasions from 2006 to 2007.

More controversial, however, is that prosecutors also closed their investigation into allegations that a widespread effort had taken place by top officials in the Park Geun-hye administration to obstruct the initial probe into Kim’s case by prosecutors and police in 2013. In two separate inquiries that year and in 2014, prosecutors eventually cleared Kim of all charges, citing a lack of evidence.

Under suspicion of using their authority to obstruct the probe were then-Blue House senior secretary for civil affairs Kwak Sang-do, currently a lawmaker for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, and former Prosecutor General Han Sang-dae.

Both figures, however, were cleared of wrongdoing by prosecutors on Tuesday, who said they could find no evidence of a systematic cover-up by the Park government, police and prosecutors at the time.

While Kim Hak-eui’s indictment serves as a partial admission that the initial investigations into the case were faulty, the acquittal of those allegedly responsible for the cover-up will likely generate continued political controversy.

For one, prosecutors were unable to clear up doubts on why the police did not recommend bribery charges for Kim when they referred him to the prosecution in 2013, despite allegedly having ample evidence to do so.

This mystery, as well as the fact that several personnel reshuffles occurred within the ranks of the police at the time of the initial probe, for years fueled speculation that the Blue House and top law enforcement figures were pulling strings to cover up the case to avoid smearing the Park administration’s reputation.

Legal analysts say while the years that passed since that probe likely made finding sufficient evidence a difficult task for prosecutors now, the hasty and ostensibly lukewarm conclusion to the case will be unable to douse public suspicions of power abuse in law enforcement.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]