December 07, 2016 10:38
The heads of Korea's top conglomerates on Tuesday denied asking for favors from President Park Geun-hye and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil in return for paying billions into two dubious nonprofit foundations.
Under questioning from lawmakers, they all said they had no choice but to cough up when Cheong Wa Dae asked them for money.
"Samsung has never ever made any donation expecting business favors in return," Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong told lawmakers. Samsung donated W20.4 billion to the two nonprofits, which were staffed with Choi's drinking buddies but sailed under the Cheong Wa Dae banner to promote sports and culture.
And Hur Chang-soo, the GS chairman and leader of the Federation of Korean Industries, said, "It's a Korean reality that if there is a government request, it is difficult for companies to decline."
Lotte Chairman Shin Dong-bin said his conglomerate's W7 billion donation to the foundations had "no relationship" with Lotte winning a license to run lucrative duty-free shops or his gaining the upper hand in a family battle over control of the conglomerate.
SK's Chey Tae-won said his group's contribution to the foundations was made under an FKI quota and was meant as "a contribution to society." But all admitted that Park or Cheong Wa Dae leaned on them.
Lee said he met Park twice for about 30 to 40 minutes. "At that time, the president did not specifically mention the foundations and I didn't fully understand what she meant," he said. "I did not know it was being overseen by Choi Soon-sil," he added.
LG's Koo Bon-moo asked lawmakers to draft laws that prohibit a president from pressuring businesses to donate money. Hanwha chairman Kim Seung-youn said he was not asked to make a contribution to the foundations in a face-to-face meeting with Park, but Cheong Wa Dae later contacted his staff asking them to chip in the money.
Legal experts suspect the tycoons are trying to dodge bribery charges by denying that they in turn submitted "shopping lists" of demands to Cheong Wa Dae and are instead trying to portray themselves as victims.
Also questioned were Hyundai Motor chairman Chung Mong-koo, Hanjin chairman Cho Yang-ho and CJ chairman Sohn Kyung-shik, who all allegedly met with Park in private when the donations were being solicited.
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