By Kang Hyun-kyung
Decades ago, the cash-swallowing campaign environment was largely responsible for two former presidents, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, being jailed for soliciting bribes and creating slush funds with money they received from conglomerates.
Lately, controversy here over ``missing leaders'' has erupted again, as another former president, Roh Moo-hyun, fell into the corruption trap, becoming the third to face questioning by prosecutors. This time, however, the motive is different.
Presidential studies expert Hahm Sung-deuk called self-proclaimed ethical leader
Roh Moo-hyun's alleged receipt of bribes a greed-driven case, observing that personal factors are the major difference between this case and those of his predecessors.
A human rights lawyer-turned-president, Roh, who retired from politics last February, is to appear at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office today for questioning over whether he received $6 million from Park Yeon-cha, the CEO of Busan-based footwear maker Taekwang.
Reports have implied that he took the money from Park as part of a retirement plan. Earlier, the former President confessed that he had a debt to repay, so his wife borrowed the money from his friend Park for that purpose.
Cho Ki-sook, who worked as senior presidential secretary for public relations during the Roh administration, characterized the case as Roh's version of ``making ends meet.''
She made the remark in an effort to help her former boss, adding the amount of money that he reportedly received was much smaller than that of Chun (approximately 220 billion won) and his hand-picked successor Roh Tae-woo (240 billion won).
In August 1996, the court found Chun had amassed a slush fund of $680 million collected from conglomerates during his presidency from March 1981 to February 1988.
An opposition lawmaker disclosed Roh Tae-woo's slush fund in 1995.
Unlike Cho, Prof. Hahm of Korea University in Seoul told The Korea Times that the two cases were different not because of the discrepancies in the amount of money Roh and his two predecessors took, but because of motives.
``Chun and Roh Tae-woo demanded astronomical amounts of cash from business leaders and created slush funds to finance campaigns. Therefore, it's safe to say that the motive of their involvement in corruption cases initially stemmed from structural causes due to the cash-absorbing campaign structure at the time,'' he said.
Political scientist Kim Choong-nam, the author of the book ``The Korean Presidents: Leadership for Nation Building,'' backed Hahm's view.
``Chun's huge slush fund was mostly spent on political campaigns and other political activities and these practices were necessary in the past, although such actions cannot be justified,'' he stated in the book.
``Some observers speculated at the time that Chun and Roh were clandestinely planning to organize a new party, splitting the ruling party, led by Kim Young-sam,'' Kim said.
Hahm said that taking bribes to better prepare for campaigns was not the case with Roh Moo-hyun.
``His corruption is quite personal. He and his family reportedly did it for their own sake,'' said Hahm.
Management of Family, Relatives' Affairs
What lessons could incumbent President Lee Myung-bak learn from his disgraced predecessors?
Hahm observed that the controlling of family members and relatives is the number one issue Lee needs to heed in the bribery cases involving the former presidents.
He tells the story about the late President Park Chung-hee's secret to maintaining successful control of his relatives during his term.
``Park Chi-man, the only son of President Park, recalled one day that he had thought he had no relatives when he was young as he had not met any. Later, he understood that he did have some during the funeral service for his mother, the late first lady Yuk Young-soo,'' Hahm said.
``After the funeral, Park said, those relatives all suddenly disappeared again. He was reunited with them after he and his sisters, including former governing Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye, walked out of the presidential mansion after their father was assassinated in 1979.''
Controlling sitting presidents' family members and relatives rarely occurred among the three former presidents.
Kim observed Chun was strict with others but failed to be stern with himself and his relatives and this led to the former president facing problems after retirement.
``He began his presidency on a strong platform for a just society, one which was healthy and equitable, and tried to remove corrupt or unhealthy elements, thereby creating many victims and political enemies,'' Kim observed.
The political scientist said, unfortunately, Chun and his relatives bore the full brunt of the assault on corruption, a boomerang effect of his purification drive.