By Park Si-soo
President Lee Myung-bak’s last year in office is being tarnished with corruption scandals, cementing his lame duck status.
Not only Lee’s cronies but also his family members, including his elder brother and children, are largely suspected of having been linked to illegal deals. This has dealt a severe blow to Lee who touted his administration in September as “ethically flawless.”
The President is far from free of a cascade of suspicions. A stock price-rigging scandal, which emerged as a stumbling block during the 2007 presidential race, was recently brought back into limelight as the prosecution moves to reopen the case.
The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) has turned to the crisis mode as members press Lee to resign from the party in a desperate maneuver to put daylight between themselves and the struggling President ahead of the April 11 general election.
The forthcoming vote is largely viewed as a litmus test for public sentiment ahead of the December presidential poll.
The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) launched a fact-finding committee last month to investigate “types” of corruption involving Lee’s confidants, threatening to start a parliamentary probe into relevant cases.
More than 13 of Lee’s family members are embroiled in illegal deals, prosecutors said — three have been arrested, two prosecuted and the remaining eight stay under suspicion.
One of such person in the hot seat is the President’s elder brother Lee Sang-deuk.
The five-term GNP lawmaker is expected to be summoned by the prosecution later this month for questioning over an unidentified 800 million won ($704,000) which the authorities found while tracing his secretaries’ bank accounts. One secretary was arrested last month on suspicion of receiving hefty kickbacks from the SLS Group chairman in exchange for influence peddling.
Lee’s son, Si-hyung, was accused by the opposition in October of a dubious real estate deal in connection with a plan to build the presidential retirement home in affluent southern Seoul, which ended up being abolished after serious criticism.
Several relatives of first lady Kim Yoon-ok have also been accused of taking bribes.
Kim’s uncle was arrested last month on suspicion of receiving 400 million won in exchange for attempting to block the state financial regulator’s suspension of a corruption-ridden savings bank. The first lady’s brother-in-law has come under fire for receiving a handsome salary from the bank while serving as its senior advisor.
Choi Si-joong, chairman of the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), is the latest in a string of presidential aides targeted by law enforcement agencies for alleged bribe taking.
A snowballing bribery scandal involving officials at the media regulator has snared the KCC chairman. Choi firmly denies his involvement.
South Korea ranked 43rd among some 180 countries in the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index released by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. It came in 27th among the 34 OECD member countries.
In a related survey last year, 65.4 percent of Korean people said society was corrupt, up from 51.6 percent in 2010, and 56.7 percent said government office workers were corrupt, up from 54.1 percent.