[INSIGHT]The Mysterious 'One Man' Behind It All

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[INSIGHT]The Mysterious 'One Man' Behind It All

Let's say there was a nationwide quiz with these questions:

1. Select the individual who is always suspected of being behind it all whenever a major corruption scandal breaks out:

(A) Mr. A (B) Mr. B (C) Mr. C (D) Mr. K

2. Choose two of the following individuals who are always suspected of being behind it all whenever a major corruption scandal breaks out:

(A) Mr. A (B) Mr. B (C) Mr. K1 (D) Mr. K2

I'll stop there for a moment. When families gather and sit around talking about various things, they eventually land on one particular issue. As opinions begin to form in each household, you get what's called public opinion. According to news reports, the issues that dominated holiday conversations this Chuseok were government corruption and economic uncertainty. Respect for ancestors and children's education were minor topics.

I'm reminded of a foreign press report that former U.S. President Clinton managed to get elected for a second term despite his less-than-praiseworthy acts because of the vibrant American economy under his tenure. Even if you see wrongdoing, you tend to be generous when your purse is full of cash, but angry when you have nothing in hand. That is what Korea is like at present.

Because politics is now at its worst while the economy is also in doldrums, public opinion is deteriorating with no end in sight. Take the so-called Lee Yong-ho scandal that is rattling the nation at present. An employee of an investment trust company got 1.6 billion won ($1.2 million) in return for attracting 1.6 trillion won in deposits from the postal bank. Of the 4.2 billion won that a construction executive received from Lee Yong-ho in return for lobbying government officials, 1.5 billion won disappeared while changing hands among high-profile politicians. Seeing this, wouldn't average citizens who sigh at a won's increase in their utility bills get upset? When a criminal suspect is released just a day after his arrest and a threatening letter from gangsters is delivered in broad daylight to a member of the National Assembly, wouldn't average citizens who shudder at getting a parking ticket be upset?

Manipulating stock prices by 25 billion won or embezzling 68 billion won of corporate restructuring funds cannot possibly take place with information that a mere bank clerk has, or with sly schemes of a corporate raider or even with strong fists of organized crime goons. This is why there is continued talk of a "real culprit" or "powers behind it all." Whether disguised as "K" or "KK," the names have come up so many times that almost everyone knows them by now. We also know that they cannot be touched except by "one man." Maybe those who are being accused feel mortified by what they call "political motives" that they think are worse than revealing their real names. To get rid of that feeling, the truth needs to be revealed - but that also is up to the "one man."

3. Choose one government agency that you think may feel most mortified at being mentioned every time a major corruption scandal breaks out.

(A) Prosecutors Office (B) National Tax Service (C) National Intelligence Service (D) Financial Supervisory Service (E) None.

We have yet to find out whether their involvement was voluntary or pressured from above. But we can at least venture a guess by looking at the case of the construction and transportation minister who resigned last week. There was a rumor that the minister's appointment resulted from his extraordinary ability in doing something - we don't know what, exactly. Another rumor had it that the appointment was the president's way of saying thanks for the minister's rock-solid allegiance. Even if the minister was named because of his ability, the timing of his appointment fed speculation that it was actually because of his allegiance. As long as such speculation persists, distinguishing whether government agencies are involved voluntarily or under pressure cannot be meaningful. This ambiguity also can be clarified by only "one man."

In China last month, I met several Korean expatriates and ethnic Koreans. Their complaints about Korea had mainly to do with politics rather than the economy. Rather than helping them, Korean politics ties their hands, they said. I cannot reveal their names, but one made this rude remark, "South Korea would be twice as good if it reduced the number of National Assembly members by half."

4. Choose one individual who you think is meant by "one man" above.

(A) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (B) Prime Minister (C) Head of the Board of Audit and Inspection (D) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(Oops, maybe there needs to be another choice.)


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Joseph W. Chung

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