[OUTLOOK]Clean hands and a clean heart?

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[OUTLOOK]Clean hands and a clean heart?

Kwon Roh-kap, a key Millennium Democratic Party assemblyman, is obsessed with cleanliness. Mr. Kwon washes his hands dozens of times a day. When entering a restaurant, he always checks whether the kitchen is clean. If it is not, he would rather skip a meal.

His obsession began while he was in middle school; as a boxer, he did road work every day. One day he was running hard and collided with someone who, it is said, was a leper. His frequent handwashing habit started then.

It must have been painful for him, therefore, when he was dining with President Kim Dae-jung one day and the president wrapped a spoonful of rice and seasoning in a leaf of lettuce and passed it to Mr. Kwon. Until then, Mr. Kwon had never eaten food handled by someone with whom he was dining, but he swallowed his qualms along with the tidbit.

His obsession has also been reflected in his political activities. During the Hanbo Group scandal, a bag full of money was delivered to him at a room at the Hyatt Hotel. He bumped into a waiter while he was walking out of the room. His obsession led him to leave the bag in the room although the money was again delivered to him at the National Theater at night. When the prosecutors began an investigation, he voluntarily called a press conference. Mr. Kwon acknowledged that he received 150 million won ($117,000) from Hanbo Group in an attempt to prevent the scandal from hurting Kim Dae-jung, who had yet to become president. This was five years ago, and Mr. Kwon was arrested.

Mr. Kwon was arrested again on a charge of receiving 50 million won. The money was allegedly delivered through Kim Eun-seong, an intelligence official, on behalf of Chin Seung-hyun, a businessman convicted last year of manipulating the stock market and obtaining illegal loans in 2000.

It is very unlike Mr. Kwon to have been involved in such corruption. Can it be that his political power weakened his lifelong obsession for cleanliness?

Mr. Kwon denied the allegation. He told his close colleagues the following story:

First of all, the president had instructed Kim Eun-seong to visit Mr. Kwon when Mr. Kim reported to the president the issues involving his son and Choi Gyu-seon. So Mr. Kim visited Mr. Kwon the next day. A National Intelligence Service official accompanied Mr. Kim to give him directions. According to Mr. Kwon, that was not a very good occasion on which money could have been delivered -- with a third party present.

Mr. Kwon also said, "I was the one who even refused to accept 3 million won offered by the NIS director to all members of the intelligence committee of the National Assembly together with seasonal greetings during the holidays," when Kim Young-sam was the president.

The backlash from Mr. Kwon's side was enormous. Then came a conspiracy theory, which said the allegation was to distract attention from the Kim Hong-gul scandal. A backlash was anticipated, and huge conflicts seemed likely to erupt. Even an opposition Grand National Party lawmaker, Ha Soon-bong, said, "There is a suspicion that arresting Mr. Kwon on such a trivial charge is to distract attention from the Kim Hong-gul scandal."

However, it did not appear to be, since the Kim Hong-gul scandal continued and even grew.

Then, some politicians said that the arrest is to hide bigger scandals by exaggerating a small one. This hypothesis is from a GNP lawmaker, Hong Joon-pyo. Even MDP lawmakers, including senior MDP officials, believe such arguments, but there is no basis. There is said to be an intention to drive Mr. Kwon into a corner.

Mr. Kwon is now in Seoul prison, wearing a number tag, 3370. He reportedly stopped eating, and his face became sullen. He said it was unfair. He is still said to insist on his innocence.

But the Korean political world and the general public are not convinced of the truth of his statement, no matter how persuasive the logic may be. The political world in Korea does not want to believe it. The community has only a vague idea, but believes that Mr. Kwon is involved in even worse misdeeds. That is why Korea pretends not to have heard his side of the story. That is Korean politics.


The writer is a political reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Youn-hong

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