[THE INVESTOR] The independent counsel team investigating corruption charges surrounding President Park Geun-hye and her aides sought an arrest warrant for former welfare minister and current National Pension Service chief Moon Hyung-pyo on Dec. 29.
The team reportedly secured an admission from Moon that he had ordered the NPS to approve the controversial merger deal between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries last year when he was welfare minister.
This is the first arrest warrant sought by the team since it launched its investigation on Dec. 21.
Moon faces charges of abusing his power by exerting unfair pressure on the NPS. He is also charged with perjury during a parliamentary hearing held earlier this month.
The investigation team appears to be inching closer to the management of Samsung Group, as it is focusing on investigating the background against which the NPS bypassed the due process and made obvious losses to consent to the merger, which has been widely considered a part of the conglomerate’s managerial succession scheme for Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.
Samsung is suspected of offering financial support as a bribe to Park’s close friend Choi Soon-sil and her associates through various foundations and businesses.
Moon, who had previously denied all accusations, reportedly admitted that he ordered the NPS to approve the deal during questioning by the special probe team.
This follows testimony by the former head of the NPS’ asset management division Hong Wan-sun -- who was summoned on Dec. 26 and Dec. 27 -- that he had to follow Moon’s instructions because the Welfare Ministry was controlling the budget and personnel of the NPS.
The special investigation team also said it secured evidence and testimony from multiple senior officials of the Welfare Ministry that Moon had ordered them to compile reports backing the deal.
News reports said that Moon allegedly made the order for the NPS to make an independent decision on the merger deal instead of putting it up for discussion through a separate committee.
The independent counsel is reportedly planning to figure out who instigated Moon to make such an order. But the team has -- for the time being -- refused to comment on any signs of Park’s direct involvement.
On Dec. 29, the independent investigation team also summoned Kim Jae-yeol, president of Samsung Sports Business of Cheil Industries, as it suspects he was involved in the 1.6 billion won ($1.3 million) donation Samsung had made to the winter sports center run by Chang Si-ho, a niece of Choi Soon-sil, from October last year to March.
The special investigation team suspects the donation was a bribe to the government in exchange for favoring the merger.
The controversial merger helped Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong tighten his grip on Samsung Group’s de facto holding company Samsung C&T.
During the parliamentary hearing on Dec. 7, Kim Hae-yeol had said, “We decided to donate the money to the center after listening to the explanations by former Vice Culture Minister Kim Jong,” hinting that the donation was not made voluntarily.
By Shin Ji-hye/The Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org)