[FORUM]Probe’s fallout may spread wide

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[FORUM]Probe’s fallout may spread wide

Nobody knows how far the investigation into the presidential election campaign funds will go. Neither Prosecutor General Song Kwang-soo nor Ahn Dae-hee, head of the Central Investigation Department at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, which is leading the investigation, know.
Few people readily talk about a pardon either. Perhaps Representative Kim Keun-tae, floor leader of Our Open Party, can start, because he was sentenced to pay a 5 million won fine together with a 20 million won punitive charge, after confessing that he received illegal political fund. He has since appealed the decision. Isn’t President Roh Moo-hyun, who started the talk about pardons, now saying that we should thoroughly investigate the political campaign funds scandal? But politicians’ desire for a pardon will not go away easily.
Many people may ask what I am talking about because the probe is still ongoing. But as the investigation expands, the possibility of a pardon increases. Arresting a few politicians may be easy, but rounding up almost all the guilty politicians would be difficult.
Therefore, it is hard to accept at face value the Grand National Party’s call to introduce an independent counsel with unlimited powers or President Roh’s proposal to investigate the overall presidential election campaign fund. With an eye on the legislative election next year, each party seems to be highlighting its transparency and going to extremes to see which party will suffer the most damage in the fallout of this scandal.
Are they going to ask people for help in finding a way out after ruining things so badly as to be unmanageable? Politicians may be secretly looking forward to a pardon, thinking that it will solve everything, but they don’t dare mention it.
But whether to give a pardon to those involved in the presidential campaign funds is not a matter to be resolved solely by the calculation of politicians and contest of power. Apart from criticism from civic groups who say that the matter cannot go unpunished this time, a bigger, a more fundamental problem is how to handle accounting irregularities in the business community. Just as there are debit and credit sides in accounting, when one party receives funds, there’s another who gives. As political parties create double accounting records to hide slush funds, businesses also resort to irregular accounting to hide their donations. Illegal political funds and business accounting irregularities are like two sides of a coin.
Tackling accounting irregularities in the business sector is more complicated than detaining politicians. In investigating politicians, most important is keeping balance among different parties. If there is no pardon, the investigation will, when it goes to the extreme, end with a massive reshuffling of politicians. But an investigation of the companies comes to an end only when “debit” and “credit” sides of the accounting book are the same. As a result, some major businesses could be replaced.
What will happen to the businesses, businessmen, workers, accounting firms and shareholders? That’s why Mr. Roh may have hinted at a possible pardon for companies that illegally donated funds.
But when accounting irregularities are revealed, can we grant a pardon if the money was used for the presidential campaign and punish if the money was used for other purposes? How can we distinguish slush funds for the presidential campaign apart from those for other uses?
Although Mr. Roh distinguishes “bribery” from “insurance-like political funds,” is there actually a clear line between the two? While looking into the business accounting irregularities, can we cover up the problem only when it is related to political funds?
An investigation into political funds can go on without a clear end in sight. This is not to say that the investigation should be finished haphazardly but that you should not undertake a task when you are not up to it. An unlimited investigation by an independent counsel or revelation of the whole affair through prosecutors’ interrogation may be used to pressure the other side. They are not out of wisdom that gives consideration to the reality and the future.
Ideally, each party would confess everything having to do with its political funds; the prosecution would verify the facts; and all seek political, judiciary and economic solutions.
And then we should create a new political fund-raising system as soon as possible. Do we want the legislative election in April to repeat the same old vices, after saying with half-hearted voices, “Let’s investigate; let’s dig up the truth; and let’s punish”?

* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil
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