Chae Jong-gi, the self-confessed arsonist of Namdaemun, enters Seoul Central District Court for a warrant review, Thursday. The police sought an arrest warrant for the 70-year-old man the previous day.
By Bae Ji-sook
Seventy-year-old Chae Jong-gi who started the fire that destroyed Sungnyemun, also known as Namdaemun, claimed Thursday that it was President Roh Moo-hyun who drove him to commit arson at the national heritage site by not listening to his petition.
According to police, Chae started the fire to draw attention to alleged incomplete payment for real estate he sold in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province. His property was included in an apartment development plan in 1998, and he expected to receive around 400 million won.
However, the construction company only paid him 94 million won, and so he wrote petitions to relevant government departments and even Cheong Wa Dae ― only to be rejected.
In 2006, he set fire to Changgyeong Palace to highlight his frustration, but was arrested, tried and fined 13 million won and given a suspended 18-month prison sentence. After that, Chae divorced his wife and moved to Ganghwa Island in Gyeonggi Province, where he was relatively quiet and reserved, his neighbors testified.
Police also found a three-page-letter he wrote a year before his arson attack on the 610-year-old landmark in which he vented his anger at a society that did not address his complaints.
Chae also claimed that he did not set fire to Changgyeong Palace, adding he was victimized. ``I am innocent. No one paid attention to my appeals. I hope my children can trust me,'' he wrote, explaining why he had to take such an extreme measure.
His comments triggered a public backlash. ``Why would he blame it on the President? Even if his petition was not listened to, that does not justify the crime he committed,'' an angry Seoul resident Song Young-joo said calling him ``crazy.''
Prof. Lee Soo-jung of Kyonggi University said Chae has a mental disorder. ``His antisocial action came from a very personal reason. He was trying to justify himself through blaming everyone, including the President. This shows that he has some kind of psychiatric disorder,'' she said.
Chae's daughter said her father could not sleep at night out of anger. ``But I wish he had rather set fire to his own home than to destroy such a valuable national asset,'' she said, apologizing to the nation.