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[Editorial] Swift probe needed

Suspicions growing about Lee, wife using public office for private purpose 

Lee Jae-myung, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential candidate, apologized again Friday for corruption suspicions involving his wife, Kim Hye-kyung.

Kim is under fire over revelations by a former low-level employee of the Gyeonggi Provincial Government that allege he had spent most of his working hours running her private errands when her husband was governor of the province. Using public officials privately constitutes a crime of abuse of authority.

Under instruction from a midlevel official of the provincial government surnamed Bae in March last year, he got a prescription of a drug written for another public servant to take for 28 days, bought the drug at a pharmacy and left it at the door of Kim’s home. Related medical law bans persons other than the patient it is issued to from getting prescriptions.

The informant revealed that Bae sent him on an errand of buying beef and leaving it at the door of Lee’s home. He purchased beef using his own credit card and a day later, he canceled the transaction and shortly repeated the transaction with a provincial government credit card issued to the governor for official use. This may constitute misappropriation of public funds.

Lee apologized for his “carelessness” and vowed to take responsibility corresponding to the outcomes of an investigation and audit by the related agencies. He said he would assume responsibility, but he made no mention of how he would do that.

Furthermore, it is questionable if the agencies will produce convincing outcomes. Lee requested that the provincial government audit the alleged credit card misuses, but its audit general is a former Minbyon lawyer he employed when he was governor. Minbyon is a group of lawyers friendly to the current regime. The audit will likely fizzle out.

As the proxy prescription scandal broke out, Bae claimed that in fact she, not Lee’s wife, took the drug in question, which was prescribed to treat menopause symptoms. Nobody takes a prescription drug that they have fetched on an errand, picking it up at a pharmacy and leaving at the door of someone else’s home. She lies to cover for the candidate and his wife. Lee hired Bae as his secretary as protocol for foreigners’ visits, but she effectively worked as his wife’s personal secretary.

Then media reported that in April last year, a month after the same government employee delivered the drug to Kim’s home, Kim visited a general hospital where she personally got a prescription for the same hormone drug to take for six months. She passed the prescription to Bae, who sent a photo of it to the lower official, instructing him to buy the prescribed drug and leave it at the entrance of Kim’s home. Of course, Bae and Kim may have been taking the same drug by chance, but given the circumstances, that is unconvincing.

Lee himself has come under suspicion. The former public servant revealed that under Bae’s orders, he purchased Chuseok holiday gifts for the governor’s relatives in September last year and delivered them personally using an official government vehicle.

It is legally and ethically wrong for heads of provincial governments to manage tax-paid employees like their personal butlers. Moreover, Lee and his wife are suspected of having abused government credit cards. A trick was employed to make the payment look legal.

Suspicions of the couple using the public office privately when Lee was governor are growing. Bae gave an absurd explanation and the Democratic Party of Korea defends it. Lee and his wife cannot merely move on with an evasive apology. An immediate and fair investigation is needed. The investigation should not be difficult. The informant revealed mobile phone conversations, mobile messages with Bae and photos proving his revelations. He is said to have hundreds of recorded files.

The presidential election is about a month away. The truth should be found quickly for voters to be able to make the correct judgment at the polls.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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