Dark Chapter in Our History
By Kim Jong-chan
Tragedy began when former President Park Chung-hee, who took power in a 1961 military coup, was assassinated by one of his cronies, Kim Jae-kyu, the nation's spy chief, in October 1979. After the incident, Chun Doo-hwan rose to power in a military coup in December 1979. Seven years later, Roh Tae-woo, Chun's classmate at the Korean Military Academy, became Chun's handpicked successor. Roh backed Chun's 1979 coup by mobilizing his infantry division from a frontline area to Seoul.
In 1987, then-president Chun appointed Roh as presidential candidate of the now-defunct Democratic Justice Party, triggering massive anti-government, pro-democracy protests nationwide. To help calm the protests, Roh promised political reform, particularly the election of a president by direct voting. The majority favored opposition forces. But the two Kims ― Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung ― ended up splitting the opposition vote, allowing Roh to be elected president.
Kim Young-sam, who became the nation's first civilian president after Roh, launched an anti-corruption drive that led to a sensational court trial for Roh and his predecessor Chun on charges of bribery. Both Roh and Chun were charged for accepting bribes of more than 200 billion won from conglomerates while in office. In addition to the bribery, they were charged with mutiny and treason for their respective roles in the 1979 coup and the bloody crackdown on the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Movement.
Roh was summoned by the prosecution for questioning first in November 1995. Upon arrival at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seoul, Roh said, ``I have nothing to say but being sorry for causing a stir to the people…'' Roh was sentenced to 22 years in prison to become the nation's first former head of state to serve a prison term, but was later pardoned by then President Kim Dae-jung and released from jail in 1998.
Chun's situation was different. Ignoring summons, he went to his hometown of Hapcheon in South Gyeongsang Province. With a warrant of arrest for him issued by the court, investigators took him from Hapcheon to Seoul. His death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. He was also pardoned and released from jail.
Roh Moo-hyun, who was president from 2003 to 2008, will leave his home in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, for Seoul this morning to undergo questioning by the prosecution in its probe into his alleged acceptance of bribes from Busan-based footwear maker Taekwang CEO Park Yeon-cha while in office.
He has claimed that his wife, former first lady Kwon Yang-sook, borrowed $1 million from Park and he didn't know about it.
Chung Sang-moon, a long-time friend of Roh who worked as presidential secretary for general affairs, was arrested for embezzling 1.25 billion won from the Cheong Wa Dae coffers. Prosecutors are probing whether Roh knew about the money.
Chung is also allegedly implicated in the transaction of $5 million given to the husband of a niece of Roh by Park. The money was said to have actually been managed by a son of Roh. Roh has denied his implication in the transaction.
A Korean proverb says: Don't take off your hat under ``oyat namu,'' or a plum tree. If one does, he or she is supposedly trying to hide fruit from the tree under his or her hat. If Roh was under a plum tree, he must have taken off his hat.