Former President Roh Jumps to Death
By Kim Rahn, Park Si-soo
Former President Roh Moo-hyun, who was embroiled in a widening corruption scandal, jumped to his death Saturday morning after leaving behind a brief suicide note, his lawyer said. He was 62.
Roh threw himself off a 30-meter cliff on a mountain behind his home in Bongha Village, Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, at around 6:40 a.m. while hiking with a security guard.
``Former President Roh left his house at 5:45 a.m. and appears to have jumped off a cliff at around 6:40 a.m. while hiking on Mt. Bongha,'' Moon Jae-in, Roh's lawyer and former secretary, said in a nationally televised statement.
A police officer quoted the security guard as saying that Roh's actions were ``too abrupt'' for him to stop them.
Right before jumping, Roh asked the accompanying guard for a cigarette, police said.
The suicide note Roh left reads, ``Many people have been suffering too much because of me. The sufferings that will come are also too enormous. I cannot do anything due to bad heath. I cannot read nor write. Life and death are just one piece of nature, aren't they?''
Roh also said, ``Don't be sorry. Don't blame anyone. It's all destiny. Please cremate my body and leave just a small tombstone near my home.''
His aides found the note saved in a file in his computer.
Despite life-saving efforts, he passed away from brain damage at 9:30 a.m., hospital officials and police said.
Roh's wife Kwon Yang-sook passed out at the hospital after the confirmation of his death. According to news reports, Roh had skipped meals and spent hours alone over the past three days.
President Lee Myung-bak said that the news was ``truly hard to believe'' and called Roh's death ``sad and tragic,'' according to presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan.
He canceled his engagements for Saturday and held an emergency meeting with secretaries. Prime Minister Han Seung-soo also convened a Cabinet meeting.
Roh has been under investigation for alleged bribery involving his family members and long-time supporter Park Yeon-cha, the CEO of shoemaking firm Taekwang.
However, the Ministry of Justice and the prosecution have now declared an end to the investigation. Justice Minister Kim Kyung-han said, ``The ongoing investigation will be brought to a halt following his death.''
Roh's elder brother, Geon-pyeong, who is serving a prison term for a separate bribery case, was temporarily released to attend the funeral.
The former head of state was suspected of taking at least $6.4 million in bribes from Park during his presidency, dealing a devastating blow to the man who earned fame as a ``clean'' politician.
The prosecution was planning to indict him for bribery as early as next week. His wife was scheduled to face a third summons as early as this weekend to be questioned over her involvement.
On April 30, Roh was summoned to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seoul, making him the country's third former president questioned by the prosecution following Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, who were both convicted in 1995 of mutiny and multi-billion-won bribery charges following a Dec. 12, 1979, military coup. But he denied the bribery allegations leveled against him.
Before reporting for questioning, Roh told reporters, ``I am deeply ashamed before my fellow citizens. I am sorry to have disappointed you.''
In his last posting on his Web site, on April 22, he wrote, ``You should now discard me,'' adding ``I no longer symbolize the values you pursue. I am no longer qualified to speak for such things as democracy, progressiveness and justice.''
Born in August 1946 in Bongha, he passed the Korean bar exam in 1975. After working as a human rights lawyer, Roh entered politics in 1988 as a member of the National Assembly.
He took over the presidency in 2003, vowing to fight corruption.
Despite high initial hopes, Roh's administration quickly became dogged by allegations of incompetence, while his frequent indulgence in personal clashes with opponents and critics eroded public support.
He is survived by his wife and two children.