South Korea’s No. 2 Official Offers to Resign Over Alleged Graft

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo offered to resign over bribery allegations that have brought President Park Geun Hye’s approval rating to a near-record low.

Lee, 64, submitted his offer yesterday to Park, who is on a 12-day trip to Latin America, his office said Tuesday in a text message. Park will decide whether to accept the resignation when she returns, according to the message. Finance Minister Choi Kyung Hwan will oversee the Cabinet meeting today.

“This will distract Park by forcing her to go through the work of picking another prime minister,” Hwang Tae Soon, a political analyst at the Wisdom Center in Seoul, said by phone. “Park may also seize this as a chance to start a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign.”

Lee, former floor leader of the ruling party, was named in January as Park tried to assuage public discontent over another scandal surrounding her presidential aides. After graft allegations involving Lee and other members of her administration emerged this month, her approval rating dropped to 34 percent from 39 percent, Gallup Korea said last week, citing a weekly survey conducted April 14-16. Her support fell to a record low of 29 percent in January.

The president holds executive power in South Korea, with the prime minister having limited responsibilities.

The allegations have made headlines since a businessman was found dead earlier this month with a note showing the names of the administration officials with indications of sums of money. Hours before his death Sung Wan Jong, head of Keangnam Enterprises, told a local newspaper he had given 30 million won ($27,700) to Lee in 2013. Sung told the Kyunghyang Shinmun he also gave 200 million won ($185,000) to a member of Park’s presidential campaign team in 2012.

Third Choice

Lee and the others have denied the allegations. Park on April 12 urged a special team of prosecutors to conduct a “strict and fair” investigation into Sung’s claims.

Lee was Park’s third pick to replace a prime minister who offered to step down last year over the government’s handling of the Sewol ferry sinking, which killed more than 300 people. Her previous two picks withdrew from candidacy before confirmation hearings.

Botched appointments have troubled Park since she won the December 2012 election. She had four cabinet picks withdraw amid graft allegations and two for personal reasons when she was forming a government. She also fired her first spokesman after he was accused of groping an intern at South Korea’s embassy in Washington during her U.S. trip in May 2013.

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