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[Editorial] All the president’s men

Choi Si-joong resigned from his second term as chairman of the Broadcasting and Communications Commission earlier this year when one of his close aides was accused of corruption. The former journalist who is known as a “mentor” of President Lee is now under investigation for receiving hundreds of million won from a construction businessman while he was helping Lee’s presidential campaign in 2007.

Over the past four years, Choi is considered a senior member of the president’s inner circle, along with his brother Lee Sang-deuk, who is a close friend of Choi. The president’s brother who served six parliamentary terms from his hometown of Pohang did not run in the April 11 election this year after financial scandals involving his aides were exposed.

We are deeply disappointed watching the disgrace falling upon the most senior figures around the president, who should have exemplified the moral standards of the government. They should have maintained total cleanness for themselves, their families and their aides while helping the president, but they have apparently failed in fulfilling this grave obligation.

Choi was quoted as saying that he spent the money he received from the businessman in conducting opinion surveys for candidate Lee Myung-bak prior to the Dec. 19 presidential vote in 2007. According to investigators, the businessman sought Choi’s influence in getting a government license for a large-scale shopping center in a suburban Seoul area, as Lee was almost assured of victory in the election.

If Choi received the money knowing its nature, it could constitute influence peddling. If he did not know what the money was meant for, as he claimed, and used it for Lee’s campaign, it was in violation of the Law on Political Funds. In the latter case, the investigation will have to expand to scrutinize Lee’s campaign financing.

Each time a presidential term has neared its end, people have hoped to see the president make an exit free of financial improprieties. Their expectations have hardly been met over the past decades. People still wish to see an exception in the presidency of Lee Myung-bak, who donated most of his personal property to charity after taking office, yet their hope is again growing thin with the disclosures of scandals involving men around the president one after the other. An exhaustive investigation should be conducted to help establish a tradition of clean presidency, if not in this term then the next one.
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