Another bribery scandal
Presidential hopefuls should learn lesson
Choi See-joong, President Lee Myung-bak’s political mentor, will turn himself in to the prosecution for questioning today over allegations that he received billions of won in bribes from a businessman.
It’s deplorable to see another corruption bombshell explode as the Lee administration draws to a close. The malpractice of graft scandals disclosed near the end of a president’s term seems the norm in Korea.
Choi, who quit as chairman of the Korea Communications Commission in January over allegations that his former aide accepted bribes from a businessman in exchange for favors, is suspected of peddling influence in return for money from the businessman, surnamed Lee, in connection with a construction project in southern Seoul. Choi, 75, has denied the bribery allegations, saying the money was used to finance public opinion polls for Lee during the 2007 presidential campaign. Park Young-joon, another key presidential aide, is also suspected of taking money from the same businessman.
The latest scandal is certain to deal a heavy blow to the Lee administration, which is already reeling from a string of corruption cases involving the President’s relatives and close confidants. Eun Jin-soo, a former commissioner of the Board of Audit and Inspection, was sentenced to eighteen months in jail earlier this year for receiving bribes. Former senior presidential secretary for public relations Kim Doo-woo was handed a jail term and former Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Shin Jae-min is now in jail over another bribery scandal. Rep. Lee Sang-deuk, the President’s elder brother, is also suspected of being involved in several graft scandals and is now under investigation.
There has been much talk about Choi’s possible involvement in corruption cases but this is the first time that he has admitted receiving money. It remains to be seen whether Choi will be punished because he is reportedly confident that there were no favors in return for the money.
The prosecution’s probe might widen to President Lee’s campaign funding, which has traditionally been a sanctuary in Korea, as Choi said he used the money for the presidential campaign. The prosecution will have to unwillingly dig deeper into the campaign funding case if important facts are disclosed during the investigation.
Against this backdrop, attention is being paid to the prosecution which has a shameful track record in looking into influence–peddling scandals involving high-profile figures, particularly since the beginning of the Lee administration. Yet we are already hearing that the prosecution is trying to narrow the scope of its investigation, ruling out the possibility of targeting Lee’s campaign funds.
The latest corruption case is a valuable lesson for presidential hopefuls who are poised to wage a fierce battle in the run-up to the Dec. 19 presidential election. Previous regimes boasted their cleanliness through the end of their time in office but all of them without exception ended up with shameful corruption cases coming to light.