SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of – South Korea’s prime minister has offered to resign amid a bribery scandal just two months after he took up the country’s No. 2 post, officials said Tuesday, in the latest political crisis to hit President Park Geun-hye.
Lee Wan Koo has been at the centre of a corruption scandal that flared after a businessman killed himself earlier this month, leaving a memo listing the names of eight high-profile figures he claimed to have bribed. Most of the eight men, including Lee, are considered as close associates of Park.
Businessman Sung Wan-jong told a local daily before his death he gave 30 million won ($27,390) to Lee in 2013.
Lee has denied the allegation but he has seen growing calls to resign after South Korea’s media have reported alleged evidence that indicates his ties with Sung. Lee’s office said Tuesday he conveyed his resignation offer Monday to President Park, who was in Peru on a four-nation trip.
Park described Lee’s resignation offer as “very regrettable” and said she “felt the prime minister’s agony,” according to a statement posted on the website of the presidential Blue House.
Park also called for a thorough investigation into the scandal, the statement said.
Chun Hye-ran, a presidential spokeswoman in Seoul, said she has not been informed whether Park would accept the resignation offer.
The latest scandal comes as Park struggles to deal with criticism over her government’s handling of last year’s ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people. Violence broke out at a Seoul rally Saturday led by relatives of the ferry victims and their supporters, leaving dozens of people injured. Park has also faced criticism over what analysts say is her poor communication with the public and lack of transparency on personnel appointments. Some of her previous prime minister and Cabinet member picks have had to withdraw from the nomination process after allegations about their ethical lapses and problematic past behaviour emerged.
Lee’s alleged involvement in the scandal came as a surprise as he announced a government’s plan in March to fight corruption in what critics say was an attempt to target associates of former President Lee Myung-bak, Park’s immediate predecessor and chief rival.
Sung, who was investigated after Lee’s anti-corruption campaign announcement, had complained about being betrayed by Lee and victimized, according to South Korean media.
South Korea’s executive power is concentrated in the president but the prime minister leads the country if the president becomes incapacitated.