&#91EDITORIALS&#93Black rice cakes

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[EDITORIALS]Black rice cakes

A so-called "rice cake money" bribery scandal is making the last days of the Kim Dae-jung administration ugly. The provider of the money is the National Intelligence Service, and the taker is Kim Ok-doo, a Millennium Democratic Party lawmaker and key member of the Donggyo-dong faction, a group of the president's long-time followers.

Public prosecutors confirmed that 1.5 million won ($1,270) in bearer's checks that Representative Kim paid as part of contract payments for three apartment houses in Bundang, Gyeonggi province, had been issued by the intelligence agency. He bought the apartments in family members' names.

Prosecutors say that the agency gave millions of won to each of the members of the National Assembly's intelligence committee, including Representative Kim, around last year's Lunar New Year's Day. They meant that the money was not a bribe, but a customary gift on traditional holidays.

But the Korean public remembers clearly that the expression "rice cake money" was the magic word that bribe-taking politicians used in the past to get away with their wrongdoings. There is an increasing cynicism about how one can spend millions of won to buy rice cakes or why the lawmaker used the money to buy apartments, not rice cakes.

The Assembly's intelligence committee supervises the spy agency, so the monetary gift could be an implicit request that panel members go easy on the agency when they audit it. If all the committee members accepted the money, they committed collective malfeasance.

There is also growing suspicion about how the spy agency raised the gift money. Last July, former and incumbent chiefs of the intelligence body were found to have given 35 million won to Kim Hong-up, a son of the president who is now in jail for influence-peddling. In the latest case, the intelligence service may have spent 700 million won.

The scandal will probably not abate soon because three factors are intertwined: checks from our spies, an influential politician and luxury apartments. It is time for such money exchanges to stop.

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