Lawmakers submitted a bill yesterday calling for an independent investigation into escalating allegations of bribery at Samsung Group, saying they cannot trust state prosecutors who allegedly took kickbacks from the largest South Korean conglomerate.
"Even if the prosecution thoroughly investigates a case involving dozens of prosecutors including their top brass, the people will not place their confidence in the prosecution probe," said the legislation signed by 151 lawmakers, a majority of the unicameral 299-member National Assembly.
Chances for the passage of the bill appeared strong as the small opposition Democratic Party has said its eight lawmakers would also vote for the legislation. Most of the 151 lawmakers on the proposed bill were from the United New Democratic Party and the Democratic Labor Party, both liberal parties.
The Samsung scandal is fast developing into a key political issue ahead of December's presidential election, where polls show liberal candidates still lagging far behind the favored conservatives.
Earlier this week, South Korean prosecutors opened a probe into an allegation that Samsung Group -- which includes Samsung Electronics Co. -- operated slush funds to bribe influential figures including senior prosecutors.
Samsung denies the allegations.
The investigation followed the filing of a criminal lawsuit last week by two civic groups against three top Samsung executives based on claims by a former top legal representative for the business group.
In his latest claim on Monday, Kim Yong-chul said two incumbent prosecutors, including prosecutor-general appointee Lim Chai-jin, and a former one regularly took bribes from Samsung. The former prosecutor is the head of the Korea Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The legislation would ask President Roh Moo-hyun to name a special prosecutor who would have up to six months to look into the case.
The special investigation would also look into other alleged wrongdoing, such as accusations the conglomerate manipulated evidence and witnesses in a court case over purported shady deals critics say were aimed at transferring corporate control from chairman Lee Kun-hee to his son Jae-yong.
Earlier this year, the Seoul High Court upheld a lower court ruling that found two Samsung executives guilty of selling bonds convertible to shares to Lee's children at less-than-market-value prices. They were sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years, and fined. Both have appealed to the Supreme Court.