Shame on leader
A series of corruption scandals allegedly involving those close to President Lee Myung-bak has rocked his administration.
The President saw his older brother, Lee Sang-deuk, arrested on July 10 on charges of accepting about 600 million won from the suspended Solomon and Mirae savings banks in return for influence-peddling to help them avoid exiting the market.
He had played a key advisory role for the CEO-turned-president, and is the first brother of a sitting president to be arrested since the foundation of the Republic of Korea on July 17, 1948. The 77-year-old was formerly a six-term lawmaker and vice speaker of the National Assembly.
Prosecutors will soon summon a longtime aide to President Lee who is suspected of also taking bribes from the Solomon Savings Bank, sources said Tuesday. The former secretary, Kim Hee-jung, who until recently handled the personal affairs of President Lee, had worked for him since 1997 when he was a lawmaker.
The people have seen former Korea Communications Commission Chairman Choi See-joong, who was regarded as Lee’s mentor, indicted on charges of taking billions of won in bribes from a businessman who had sought to build a complex of office buildings and logistics facilities in southern Seoul. Others indicted include Park Young-joon, former vice minister of knowledge economy who is alleged to have taken money from the same businessman.
In Korea, irregularities involving those close to the president have plagued almost all governments. Those who received jail terms for their involvement in corruption cases included a brother of the late Roh Moo-hyun, sons of the late Kim Dae-jung, a son of Kim Young-sam and brothers of Chun Doo-hwan.
Many attribute the outbreak of “too many” scandals involving those who are close to the president to the country’s “emperor-like” presidency.
Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), who worked as presidential chief of staff during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, has called for more decentralization and a reduction of the president’s power. He suggests that the head of state share power with the Cabinet led by the prime minister.
Another DUP presidential aspirant Kim Doo-gwan, former governor of South Gyeongsang Province, has made a similar demand. He asks for the introduction of a combined presidential and parliamentary system of government adopted by France. Under the scheme, the president is in charge of diplomatic and defense affairs, and the prime minister overseas administrative matters.
None of the other presidential hopefuls have thus far presented such intensive measures on power-sharing.
Leading presidential contender Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party would not comment on the issue. Her followers have opposed any move for talks on possible change to the power structure. Instead, Park proposed the introduction of a system under which a special inspector and his or her team oversee the presidential family and staff.
Park was narrowly defeated by Lee in the primary of the Grand National Party, the predecessor of the Saenuri Party, in 2007. Since then, she has had the strongest showing in public opinion polls. In the latest survey of a hypothetical contest against Ahn Cheol-soo, a popular information technology mogul and professor at Seoul National University, Park was ahead by 4 percentage points.
According to a survey of 233 lawmakers to mark the opening of the 19th National Assembly early this month, only one-fifth of respondents supported the idea of leaders sharing power. About 10.3 percent favored a two-tier system of government under which the president shares power with the prime minister, while 9.4 percent supported a parliamentary system of government adopted by Britain and Japan.
Stiffer punishments may be the only way to prevent a recurrence of similar scandals involving the presidential family and staff.
President Lee has remained silent on the bribery accusations against those close to him. Aides say Lee is considering offering an apology for the bribery charges ― a shameful but unavoidable act that is expected to accelerate the lame-duck phenomenon for the country’s leader in the last year of his five-year tenure.