[Editorial] Bad legacy

By Korea Herald

Park, Lee succeed shameful tradition of crooked presidency

  • Published : Mar 1, 2018 - 17:31
  • Updated : Mar 1, 2018 - 17:31

The flurry of new stories about former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, all coming from the court and the state prosecution, show how crooked the Korean presidency is.

The numerous charges -- and they really are numerous, with Park alone facing 18 altogether -- have yet to be judged by the court, but testimonies and evidence reported so far point to grave wrongdoings on the part of the two former leaders.

Park, who was ousted from office last March amid a massive corruption scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil, may face a heavier penalty than Choi.

The prosecution demanded 30 years in prison for Park and fines of 118.5 billion won ($110.4 million), the same amount as those on Choi. Prosecutors had demanded 25 years for Choi and the lower court handed her a 20-year prison term.

The fines cover the money Park and Choi allegedly conspired to coerce conglomerates like Samsung, SK and Lotte to donate to two foundations controlled by Choi.

Park was also charged with helping Choi extort money from Samsung to finance her daughter’s overseas equestrian training.

Besides the cases involving Choi, Park is standing a separate trial in connection with allegations that her aides received huge amounts of audit-free special activity expenses from the National Intelligence Service.

All this is nothing new, but the fact that the prosecution demanded a 30-year prison term for Park, which could effectively be a life sentence for the 66-year-old former president, should remind us -- yet again -- how shameful our presidency has become.

There is no doubt that Park is primarily responsible for the scandal that broke out in late 2016, as she allowed her confidante who did not have any official position to meddle in state affairs and peddle influence.

As a result, Park became the first democratically elected leader of this country to have been removed from office, which, as the prosecution aptly pointed out, has left “an inerasable blemish on history.”

Maybe another blemish is soon to be revealed, as the prosecution, which has been investigating several cases involving Lee, is set to question the former president soon. Some of his aides are already in custody.

Some allegations against Lee are the same as those against Park, including those regarding the use of the spy agency and the military cyberwarfare unit for illegal domestic political activities.

But a close look at the cases shows that there is a big difference between the cases of Lee, a business-turned-politician, and Park: Lee’s cases have more to do with his personal wealth than Park’s cases.

One target of the prosecution’s multipronged probe into Lee is DAS, an auto parts firm which -- despite his repeated denials -- has long been suspected of being owned by Lee. Prosecutors now believe that Lee owned the company through his elder brother and other relatives, orchestrated the management of slush funds, embezzled company money and evaded taxes.

Samsung, which suffered a lot from the Park-Choi corruption scandal, was also embroiled in Lee’s case, as it allegedly paid litigation fees for DAS at the request of Lee’s aides when Lee was the president.

The new case came to the fore while the prosecution was looking into allegations that Lee mobilized government officials to pressure a former partner in the US of DAS to pay back its investment worth 14 billion won. In other words, Lee and his associates are suspected of using their positions to solicit favors for a private company run by the president or his family.

Then came more allegations: Prosecutors say that they obtained testimonies that Lee and his brother, former National Assembly Vice Speaker Lee Sang-deuk, received more than 2 billion won from a banker in return for favors.

There are some grounds to the argument that Park and Lee, both conservatives, have become a target of a political vendetta by the government of liberal President Moon Jae-in. But the two former leaders’ personal wrongdoings we have come to know so far are too grave to fully agree with the view that they are merely victims of political revenge.