[VIEWPOINT]Untangling web of accusationsThe Central Investigation Department at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, which is heading the investigation into illegal campaign funding, has requested a warrant of detention for Ahn Hee-jung, one of President Roh Moo-hyun’s closest aides, on Dec. 14. The request was based on the allegations that Mr. Ahn accepted a total of 1.14 billion won ($1 million) as illegal political funds from the chairman of Sun & Moon, Moon Byeong-ok, and the president of Changshin Textile Co., Kang Geum-won, before and after last year’s presidential election.
The prosecution announced that out of the 1.14 billion won, Mr. Ahn handed over about 750 million won to Seon Bong-sul, former president of mineral water company Jangsucheon, and that some of this amount was used to pay the company’s debts. President Roh was formerly involved in its management.
The prosecution said Mr. Ahn allegedly received 100 million won from Mr. Moon through Lee Kwang-jae, former presidential secretary for information and policy monitoring, in late November 2002, and 590 million won over 10 incidents from many people at the office of political affairs team on the eighth floor of the Millennium Democratic Party building in Yeouido, Seoul, from late November to before the presidential election.
It also said that the allegations against Mr. Ahn included receiving 450 million won from Kang Geum-won, in violation of the Political Funds Act, on Dec. 15 and Dec. 24, 2002.
But the problem is that Mr. Ahn was already suspected of corruption earlier, but the charge was dropped at that time. While investigating into the “lobby scandal of the Nara Merchant Bank,” during which Mr. Ahn was accused of accepting illegal contributions from Nara, the prosecution indicted Mr. Ahn without detention, who was then-deputy director of the National Strategy Institute of the Millennium Democratic Party.
Of course, criticism followed that the prosecution indicted “close aides of the power” but didn’t detain them even after uncovering their wrong-doings. The prosecutors were silent on the matter.
Of course, different criteria can be used for different cases, and the prosecution has the right to decide whether to detain or not to detain a suspect. But as a member of the public, I cannot help wondering why Mr. Ahn, who had been released at the time of the earlier charges, should be detained on these new charges.
After some twists and turns, including the hunger strike of Choe Byung-ryul, chairman of the Grand National Party, the independent counsel’s inquiry into the corruption allegations of the president’s close aides is about to begin soon.
If the independent counsel proves Mr. Ahn’s corruption charges and sentences him to a severe punishment, a strange phenomenon will happen that his punishment will have become progressively heavier ― from non-detention at the Seoul District Prosecutors Office to detention at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, and to a severe punishment by an independent counsel.
Regarding the detention of Mr. Ahn, an Internet user said cynically, “It would be much better to cover the sky with a palm of the hand. Such politics should be banished from Korea as it gives the people only disappointment and frustration, much less giving them hope and dreams that future-oriented and productive politics can occur by concentrating national strength. Shouldn’t the present administration bow down before the people and wait for their punishment?”
There is an old Chinese saying that a pear drops as a crow flies from the tree. It means that one inadvertently gets suspected by others, just as the crow is blamed for causing the pear to drop, which, in fact, fell by chance. I’d like to ask the independent counsel to clarify whether the prosecutors reduced or halted the probe into the charges against Mr. Roh’s close aides, particularly Mr. Ahn, because of outside influence such as political pressure.
I hope the independent counsel will clarify whether the prosecutors lacked the capability or instead intentionally reduced the scope of inquiry. The investigation into President Roh’s close aides has been conducted by the Seoul District Prosecutors Office and the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, and will be taken up by the independent counsel.
Will the a series of investigation end up like the Chinese saying, an event that is ruinous to the country and that stirs up the people’s emotions? Upon deeper reflection, I don’t think the case is like the old saying.
* The writer is the managing editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Shin Joong-don