Bribes before the fall

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Bribes before the fall

Choo Boo-kil, a former public affairs secretary for President Lee Myung-bak, is under investigation for allegedly receiving more than 100 to 200 million won from Park Yeon-cha, the chairman of Taekwang Industrial. Prosecutors believe Park gave Choo the money as a bribe to avoid taxes. Choo admitted receiving the money although he said it wasn’t a bribe.

Choo’s is the first bribery scandal to hit an official in President Lee Myung-bak’s administration. The case is remarkable because it could herald the beginning of the Lee administration’s proverbial loss of innocence.

The number of corruption cases often rises in any incumbent administration, especially as the president moves into his second year of office. Those who helped the president gain power in the presidential election might be tempted by the prospect of a backhander.

There might well be public officials in search of promotion, entrepreneurs interested in winning large-scale construction and engineering projects or anyone being investigated by the National Tax Service willing to approach someone in government with an attractive offer.

And as long as there are people with a say in political matters seeking to gain financial reward as well as success in office, corruption will not go away.

The bribery case involving Chang Hak-ro, who was a secretary for former President Kim Young-sam, is a prime example. The story broke ahead of general elections in 1996, when Chang received money from business people during the first year of the Kim administration. At the time, Kim was concentrating all his energies on reform.

A host of scandals took place during the second and third years of the Kim Dae-jung administration. Under the Roh Moo-hyun presidency, it has been alleged, the former president’s brother, Roh Geon-pyeong and his closest aide, Lee Gang-cheol, had been receiving money from the second year of the administration.

President Lee Myung-bak’s second year in office is an appropriate time to push ahead with large-scale investment projects to boost the national economy, such as maintenance of the country’s four major rivers and the construction of the Seoul-Incheon canal. And there is a lot of interest in how corporations are going to be restructured and how bank loans are going to be handed out.

So the Choo case is a timely reminder for the government to be on the lookout for possible bribery. Lee faces the urgent necessity of running a special supervisory institution to prevent such cases from occurring again. Choo’s case might be a precious warning sign.
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