It is shocking and sad that Rep. Roh Hoe-chan, floor leader of the far-left minor opposition Justice Party, has leapt from an apartment building to death on Monday.
He faced an investigation into an allegation that he received tens of million won in illegal political funds from an associate of a power blogger who has been jailed in an online comment rigging scandal.
“It is true that I accepted 40 million won in two parts in March 2016 from a community run by Druking (the blogger’s nickname),” he said in one of his suicide notes, “But there were no strings attached to the money, and also I never promised anything in return.”
Roh was a prominent liberal politician and former labor activist who gained popularity among the general public with his witty and logical political comments. Bipartisan grief and lamentation over his sudden death demonstrates that he was respected by politicians regardless of their ideological inclinations.
Roh strongly denied the allegation he received political funds from a figure close to Druking, the main culprit in the scandal. “I’ve never accepted any illegal political funds,” He told reporters in Washington DC on Thursday. “Now that special counsel is reportedly considering summoning me, I will receive the investigation fairly and squarely and reveal the truth.”
For all his ostensible self-confidence, however, he seemed to have come under great psychological strain as special prosecutors secured statements and evidence, and hinted they would summon him soon. He may also have felt a lot of pressure over the impact that suspicions about his ethics would have on the Justice Party and the whole of the nation’s liberal politics.
The expression in his suicide note, “It was my grave fault (to have accepted the money without taking proper steps to register it as a legal campaign fund). I have heavy responsibilities. My fault is too grave to be punished enough according to a court ruling or by the party,” seems to speak for his feeling at the last moment of his life.
It is pitiful that a leading liberal lawmaker who values morality and integrity over anything else took his own life over an issue related to money.
He left big shoes for the liberal camp to fill. The bloc should inherit the political ideals and goals Roh pursued for his entire life. In order to soar, domestic politics needs to use both wings, conservative and liberal.
His death also teaches politicians of both ruling and opposition parties to look back on their ethical standards. They should think seriously of how voters regard them.
Particularly, the Justice Party, which was on a roll after local elections in June, is likely to face damage to its reputation from Roh’s confession that he received illegal funds. Liberals including the party members should take his last anguish to heart.
The death of a politician respected for integrity is sorrowful, but it is questionable if suicide was the only way to uphold his honor. Suicide is not a means to atone for one’s wrongs. The issue regarding Roh was all about being investigated and accepting the consequences.
The special counsel’s investigation into the scandal may falter, affected by Roh’s death. But a strict and impartial inquiry must hold its way to bring light to the scandal which could distort information and threaten democracy
The essence of the case is rigging online comments, and its focus is South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo, who is suspected of masterminding the plan. It was important to investigate Roh, but special prosecutors must concentrate more on the root of the problem.
Prosecution and police had not investigated the scandal carefully. Kim allegedly watched the demonstration of the rigging program and implicitly approved it, but he has been summoned just once for a perfunctory questioning.
The death of the iconic liberal lawmaker must not be used as a pretext to suppress special counsel’s investigation. Any politician, if found involved in bribery related to the scandal, must be strictly punished. Roh’s death should serve as a momentum to clear all suspicions about the Druking case.