Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 5 News List

South Korean prosecutors raid another conglomerate

REUTERS , SEOUL

Prosecutors raided the owners of one of South Korea's biggest department stores yesterday, widening a probe into illegal funding that has caused chaos in the country's politics.

Prosecutors and company officials said teams raided the head offices of the Lotte Group and an affiliate at mid-morning. Lotte is South Korea's eighth-largest business group and is involved in department stores, hotels, food and construction.

President Roh Moo-hyun, whose associates are among those named in the scandal, meanwhile set a Cabinet meeting for today to approve a bill for a special counsel into the funding.

He had no choice after the opposition-dominated parliament on Thursday overturned his veto of the bill empowering the special investigator.

Newspapers strongly criticized both Roh and the opposition after their bitter falling out over the investigation and said there would be more political chaos ahead of the general election next April.

"The reality we live in is one where nothing gets done, and nothing works right, and there's nothing but antagonism, conflict and quarreling," said the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Lotte joins other top conglomerates such as the Samsung Group, LG Group and Hyundai Motor Co, which have been searched for evidence that the family-run chaebol business groups improperly funded parties during last year's presidential elections.

The bill will give the special investigator three months from next month to look into scandals that have seen several of the president's aides and campaign donors arrested or interrogated.

Meanwhile, the head of the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP), Choe Byung-yul, went to hospital and ended a hunger strike he staged while his party paralyzed parliament with a protest boycott over Roh's veto.

Newspaper editorials said Roh was unwise to reject a bill that had passed last month with a veto-proof two-thirds of the National Assembly. They also chastised Choe for his hunger strike and boycott that delayed key budget deliberations.

"Who will compensate the people for the damage caused by the useless tug-of-war?" asked the Korea Times.

The spat left parliament with 1,205 bills to vote on before next Tuesday, including the next year's national budget legislation.

The scandal erupted earlier this year after the arrest of a Roh aide under bribery and political funding laws. Prosecutors allege he took 1.1 billion won (US$920,500) from the SK Group.

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