[Viewpoint]Leave the dark past in the shadows

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[Viewpoint]Leave the dark past in the shadows

Newspapers ran a brief story recently about the bans put on Lee Hoi-chang’s son and his attorney from leaving Korea because of a complaint regarding campaign funds during the 2002 presidential election.
Lee Hoi-chang’s side lodged the accusation and withdrew it a few days later. However, prosecutors explained the complaint could not be canceled due to a retraction.
There seems to be something complicated about the case. Why did prosecutors issue travel bans against the informers, not the accused? Why did the informer suddenly take back his accusation? He might have felt uneasy about it. Also, why do the prosecutors want to continue the investigation even though the complaint was withdrawn? On the surface, the case seems to be simply about travel bans and complaint retractions. However, clearly there is more to the story than can be revealed.
Lee Hoi-chang is the person who caused trouble to President-elect Lee Myung-bak by suddenly joining the presidential race at the last minute. He openly said Lee Myung-bak should drop out of the race and did not hesitate to personally attack him. Now, the same source of that trouble has declared his intention to compete with the Grand National Party by founding a new political party before the April general election.
Lee Hoi-chang is indeed a threat to the Grand National Party. In a sense, the case could be interpreted as a political affair involving the president-elect and the Grand National Party. Of course, prosecutors should avoid such generalizations. The prosecution’s position is that they issued the travel bans because they discovered unlawful acts during their investigation and they cannot ignore a crime just because a complaint was retracted.
Literally, they are abiding by the law. However, let’s take a look at the bigger picture. Prosecutors will conduct their investigation by the book and the investigation will naturally push Lee Hoi-chang into a corner. In effect, Lee Hoi-chang’s new party will lose momentum, and the prosecutors will form a good relationship with not only the president-elect, but also the Grand National Party. Is such an interpretation far-fetched?
Lee Hoi-chang’s candidacy went against principles and justification. In a sense, he is also responsible for the sufferings Korea experienced during the last decade. If Lee did appropriate money left over from his presidential campaign, many people would be disappointed. He might not have been qualified to question Lee Myung-bak’s morality during the recent campaign. Some will insist we need to uncover the allegations all the way to show that the laws are intact in Korea.
Nevertheless, I don’t think this case should be pursued any further. I am not arguing that the case was addressed already, in 2002. I am afraid, however, that an investigation could be misunderstood as a political maneuver ahead of the National Assembly election in April.
It could set an undesirable precedent in the relationship between the Blue House and the prosecutors at the start of a new administration.
The presidential election was a victory for the citizens, not just Lee Myung-bak. No matter how hard the people in power attempted political maneuvers, such as the BBK scandal and inter-Korean summit meetings, nothing could change the hearts of the voters. The election was, by all accounts, a clean one.
The candidates were not allowed to spend money unlawfully, and they did not need to spend too much on the campaign. The citizens have matured politically.
However, this case carries the danger of throwing politics back into the past. The investigation could be seen as a political scheme and it could bring back memories of slush funds. We have shed the dark past and taken a step forward, so why should we be jerked back? It will not help the president-elect, either. Even if he doesn’t wish to exploit his position, the party or another authority could tempt him to punish certain people. Such temptations would make him fall into the trap of power.
Having experienced rapid development, we have burdens in every area. The Lee Hoi-chang case was a product of the past political environment. If we try to evaluate it with the yardstick of the present, the people in power might influence it. The past is like a hidden trap. Therefore, if it is something that can be forgiven within the boundaries of common sense, it would be wiser to leave it untouched. To make progress, we should detach ourselves from the past. What we expect of the president-elect is a determination to break off from the past.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial pages of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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