SEOUL - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who is one of the likely candidates to succeed scandal-hit South Korean President Park Geun Hye, has denied an allegation that he took bribes worth US$230,000 from a tycoon in the 2000s when he was the country's foreign minister.
The weekly Sisa Journal claims in a report published on Saturday (Dec 24) that Ban allegedly received the kickback from Park Yeon Cha, a businessman who was at the centre of the corruption scandal involving close aides to and family members of late President Roh Moo Hyun.
In a press statement released late Saturday, Ban strongly denied the allegations as "completely false and groundless", and demanded the magazine to issue an official apology and withdraw the report.
Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, responding on behalf of Ban, said an official letter will be sent to the editor-in-chief of the Sisa Journal to ask for its apology and cancellation of the report.
Meanwhile a former chief prosecutor who led an investigation into a high-profile lobbying scandal back in the mid-2000s told Yonhap new sgency he doesn't know anything about the allegation.
"Many people have been calling me since this morning, but I don't know anything about it," said Lee In Kyu, former chief investigator at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, on Saturday.
"While I am not sure about the veracity (of the report), I don't know anything about it," Lee said.
Citing several anonymous sources close to Park Yeon Cha, the magazine quoted Park as saying that he handed a paper bag carrying US$200,000 in cash to Ban at the residence of the foreign minister in Hannam-dong, southern Seoul, in 2005. Ban was the foreign minister at that time.
The magazine also reported, citing a person close to Park, that Park asked the owner of a restaurant in New York to pass on another US$30,000 to Ban in early 2007, right after Ban was elected UN secretary-general. The money was allegedly given to Ban.
The probe team covered up the allegations for fear of causing damage to national interests, even though it had secured the testimony from Park in March 2009 that he gave money to Ban, the report continued, citing Park's lawyer.
It is unclear how the allegation might affect Ban's bid for the presidency, if he does throw his hat into the ring.
The 72-year-old, whose term as UN chief ends on Dec 31, last week gave the strongest signal yet that he’s willing to run for president in his native South Korea, telling reporters he’d be inclined to run if his decade-long experience as UN head “can be of help to the country”.
Lee the former prosecutor told Yonhap even if it were true that Ban took bribes, the allegations in 2005 won't be prosecutable because the statute of limitations on a bribery charge is 10 years.
Regarding the reported bribe in 2007, he said: "It is not a lot of money. And it doesn't make sense that the money was handed over at the restaurant frequented by Park."