SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Roh Moo-hyun named a former prosecutor as independent counsel Thursday to probe allegations of slush funds and bribery by Samsung Group, the country's leading conglomerate.
The move cleared the way for independent counsel Cho Joon-wung to also investigate opposition claims that Roh received Samsung money before and after the 2002 election.
''I will conduct thorough investigations to ensure no suspicion is left,'' in the scandal, Cho said, according to Yonhap news agency. Cho, who now works as an attorney, was not immediately reachable for comment.
Cho has up to 125 days to complete his investigations, according to a bill approved earlier by Roh.
Roh had criticized the National Assembly for passing the bill calling for an independent probe but accepted it amid a spate of allegations against the Samsung group, which includes global technology giant Samsung Electronics Co.
Kim Yong-chul, a former top legal affairs official at Samsung, has alleged Samsung Group set up a $215 million slush fund to bribe influential figures such as prosecutors, judges and government officials.
Kim, a former prosecutor himself, said Samsung used Samsung Corp. — its trading arm — to create the pool of money through intricate contracts with other group affiliates and that family members of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee used $65 million of the money to buy expensive art work.
Samsung, which has denied the claims, said Thursday it had no comments on the appointment of the independent counsel.
Huge South Korean industrial groups such as Samsung are not new to scandals. The so-called chaebol conglomerates have regularly been accused of wielding their economic might to influence government decisions, and of using dubious dealings between subsidiaries to help controlling families evade taxes and transfer wealth to heirs.