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South Korea corruption probe grows after businessman's suicide

Sung was under investigation for improperly securing $73 million of South Korean government loans before his untimely death on Thursday.

By Elizabeth Shim
South Korea corruption probe grows after businessman's suicide
Sung Wan-jong, the former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises, was found dead Thursday in Seoul in an apparent suicide. He was one of several private executives who participated in the acquisition of energy assets overseas through heavy borrowing at the behest of former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, April 13 (UPI) -- A South Korean businessman accused of using government loans to create a multi-million dollar slush fund was found dead on Thursday in an apparent suicide, and a note in his pocket is at the center of an anti-corruption inquiry.

Sung Wan-jong, the former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises, was one of several private business executives who participated in the acquisition of energy assets overseas through heavy borrowing at the behest of former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, reported The Financial Times.

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The project, however, resulted in the loss of public funds and charges of corruption. According to Seoul's board of audit and inspection on April 3, business ventures between South Korean private companies and state-controlled corporations have led to a $3.1 billion net loss for South Korean taxpayers.

Sung's company Keangnam Enterprises had partnered with Korea National Oil Corporation on a disastrous Russian oil project. The South Korean state firm was accused of using taxpayer money to overpay for Canadian oil company Harvest Operations in 2009.

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Sung was under investigation before his untimely death on Thursday. He had been denying he had improperly secured $73 million of government loans by exaggerating future profits from the Russian oil project, the day before he was found hanging from a tree in a wooded area in Seoul.

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The note found in Sung's pocket is at the center of a growing controversy that is taking over South Korea's National Assembly.

The memo dubbed "Sung Wan-jong's List" included a roster of politicians' names paired with significant sums of money that are believed to be political donations or financial bribes, reported BusinessKorea. All on the list have denied receiving bribes.

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The politicians on the list are members of South Korea's governing Saenuri Party, and South Korea's opposition party has demanded an investigation into the people listed on the note, which includes Lee Wan-koo, the current Prime Minister.

Yonhap reported Tuesday Prime Minister Lee denied receiving $27,384 in financial contributions from Sung that Sung said he donated to Lee when he was campaigning to be elected lawmaker in 2013.

The Saenuri Party said it will allow investigations into individuals on the list, but added opposition party members also need to be investigated – prompting accusations of a "witch hunt" from New Politics Alliance for Democracy, the opposition.

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