Gov't Must Take Steps to Dispel Doubts over Abuse of Power

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Gov't Must Take Steps to Dispel Doubts over Abuse of Power

I once saw a foreign movie in which a powerful government bureaucrat murdered a congressman for opposing a bill his agency wanted to pass into law. The scene of the crime was accidentally captured on a camera that had been rolling to observe birdlife. The people with the film, who had no idea of its significance, were either murdered by the agency as it tried to cover up the crime, or falsely accused and sought by the law enforcement authorities. The fugitives were pursued relentlessly until their situation became desperate and they had no-one to appeal to.

In many aspects, the recent Hanvit Bank loan scandal is reminiscent of this movie. A branch manager at the Korea Credit Guarantee Fund refused the request of an influential presidential secretary for a loan guarantee. The almighty Chong Wa Dae special investigation team then stepped in to accuse the manager of bribery, and handed him over to the prosecution. The company he worked for demanded his resignation. Everyone involved in the case insisted that there had been no external pressure. Fleeing the dragnet of the law enforcement authorities, the fugitive made secret contacts with reporters--again reminiscent of a thriller--and put forward his version of the "truth," before going into hiding again.

The fugitive insists that everything stemmed from his refusal of a loan guarantee demanded by an influential figure in the current administration. He claims that the charges of bribery against him were "fabricated." If his claims are true, then the case is indeed a grave one with several issues at stake. The first is potential abuse of government power. If the presidential investigation team questioned a company executive as revenge for his failing to bow to pressure from a presidential secretary, then it indicates that government power has been used for private purposes.

The second issue is the distortion of the law by government power. If the charges against the fugitive were fabricated, then it means the government is falsely accusing him of being a criminal. The third issue is the destruction of an individual's life by government power. In a petition he sent to media organizations, the fugitive claimed that all the members of his family are suffering from severe mental shock, and that his family life is on the verge of falling apart. The powerless populace has no way to resist the might of the government, he claimed.

The biggest issue, however, is the public's distrust of the government and the law enforcement authorities. The fugitive issued a declaration of conscience and said that if he makes statements after being arrested that contradict his previous ones, then the public should assume that he has been forced to make a false confession. He said that neither the prosecution nor the government should be trusted. Unfortunately, the majority of Koreans share, or sympathize with this distrust. During the Chusok holidays, the topic of greatest interest throughout the nation was this alleged government "conspiracy", and public interest continues to remain focused on the extent of external pressure exerted in the case.

No one yet knows how much of the branch manager's story is true. A government minister suspected of engaging in influence-peddling in the case claims that the actual facts are entirely different. Some of the branch manager's coworkers also state that he is an unreliable person who is capable of engaging in double dealing. Nevertheless, many people believe that a considerable part of his claims, if not all, could be true, in view of the way the influential minister in question has conducted himself so far, the past practices of the financial community, and the way the current administration manages its power.

Distrust of the government is at the core of the incident. No one regards the case as a simple loan scandal, but one that is associated with the exertion of government influence. Another problem is the abuse of power by the powerful figures involved and the presidential office at Chong Wa Dae. Certain persons who reportedly wield so much power that they are known as the "president's errand boy," or the "vice president," as well as other key figures in the ruling party, are both directly and indirectly involved in this scandal. This is why it could develop into a major issue that raises doubts about the ruling party itself, and has serious implications for the continued existence of the current administration.

The ruling camp, however, appears to be bent on whitewashing the case. Chong Wa Dae gave two responses to the scandal. First, it stated that President Kim Dae-jung "questioned" the suspected minister about the actual facts and that he had "listened" to the minister's explanations. Second, it said that President Kim is against assigning a special prosecutor, or an independent council, to investigate the case, since there are doubts about how effective such a move would be.

Even if an independent council proves to be ineffective, it was rash of Chong Wa Dae to make such an announcement. If the president himself has asked direct questions about a case that is still under investigation, then there is the possibility that the president might be dragged into the scandal. We do not know exactly what President Kim thinks about an independent council, but it seems that the public has its own ideas on this matter.

The current administration should know even better than its predecessors that the abuse of power can have serious repercussions. If the government realizes that the the public is paying close attention to the handling of this case and it decides to listen to the mood of the people, a solution might make itself clear.

by Kim Young-bae

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