DMZ Plot Again Used by PoliticiansThe first trial in relation to the so-called "shooting scandal" has reached its conclusion after almost two years. The scandal involved an alleged request made to North Korea on the eve of the 1997 presidential election to instigate exchanges of gunfire at the truce village of Panmunjom in a bid to manipulate the situation in favor of Lee Hoi-chang, the ruling party candidate. The court has recognized the existence of the plot by sentencing three defendants, but it has not dispelled lingering doubts about the involvement of politicians or whether certain elements were pulling strings behind the scenes.
The defendants claim they were forced to make false confessions after being tortured during the investigation and have sued the government for damages. The case is still pending and the truth of these allegations has yet to be determined. Nevertheless, the significance of the ruling is far-reaching. According to the court, the three defendants hatched the plot aiming to make personal gains and asked North Korea to play along, but things did not work out. In other words, the case was no more than a foiled attempt at creating an incident, carried out by three individuals. Given that the Agency for National Security Planning and the prosecution described it as a "grave incident that has shaken the very existence of the nation" when the scandal first erupted, this simple conclusion has caught us off-guard.
The major point of interest was whether external forces were involved. The key question here was who colluded with the three defendants, leading to further questions such as how they were connected and what they wanted. With the acquittal of Kwon Young-hae, former head of the intelligence agency, who was indicted for having neglected his duties, the story of intelligence agency''s involvement has lost its luster. The prosecution claimed that the defendants briefed then presidential candidate, Lee Hoi-chang, about their scheme, but the court rejected this, saying, "There is no documentation supporting this claim." The court recognized that the defendants delivered a report concerning the presidential election to the Grand National Party, but it could not verify whether the scheme to ask North Korea to initiate a skirmish was included in the report. When the prosecution took the case to court, it announced that after further investigations it would reveal who pulled the strings behind the scenes. As yet, no new information has come to light. This means that the prosecution implicated a certain candidate without any evidence. Investigators must therefore stop and reflect on their actions.
Both the ruling party and the opposition are now putting their own political spins on the case in an attempt to gain some advantage. They are each demanding that the other apologize. We wonder if they have grasped the spirit of the ruling at all. Turning the ruling into a political pawn is not only an affront to the judiciary, but it advertises the ignorance of politicians.
Looking back to the days of the shooting scandal in the period before the inter-Korean summit talks, the case strikes us as almost anachronistic. It was a tragedy typical of the period, when during every election, politicians attempted to use North Korea to gain votes. Although the shooting scandal plot did not come to fruition, it leaves us with the disturbing impression that politicians may have played to the tune of certain businesspeople dealing with North Korea. It also hints at the possibility that similar scandals could occur if inter-Korean relations are allowed to develop without full transparency and full reciprocity.