Special team begins probe on Roh Moo-hyun's former aides

An independent counsel Monday began its investigation into the allegations of corruption involving several of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's former aides.

As an initial step, the team, established especially for the investigation, has requested the prosecution to impose exit bans on four to five key figures suspected of bribing Roh's former aides, reported the South Korean Yonhap News Agency.

"We have to think further about the need to question President Roh," said Kim Jin-hong, head of the special counsel, adding "We will decide later whether to do it."

The team of around 70 investigators will look into the allegations for up to 90 days.

Roh was forced to name the special counsel on Dec. 16, 2003 after the National Assembly, led by the Grand National Party, overrode his veto early November of a bill to appoint an official to carry out an investigation.

The opposition parties said the prosecution could not have fair investigation of the scandal because it was under the influence of the president.

Wrapping up a months-long investigation late last month, the prosecution said it had indicted three former presidential aides: Choi Do-sul, Ahn Hee-jung and Lee Kwang-jae.

Choi is accused of receiving 1.1 billion won (930,000 US dollars)in illegal corporate kickbacks shortly after the December 2002 presidential election, embezzling presidential campaign funds and taking illegal funds of around 680 million won (569,040 dollars) from several companies based in Busan, the nation's largest port city and Roh's stronghold.

Ahn is suspected of accepting 18.4 billion won (15.4 million dollars) in illegal money from Kang Geum-won, one of Roh's closest friends, and other businesspeople. While Lee is alleged to have received 100 million won (83,682 dollars) from a Busan-based company during the presidential election campaign.

The scandal has dealt a blow to Roh, who vowed during his election campaign to put an end to money politics.





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