[Viewpoint] Kang’s contradiction

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[Viewpoint] Kang’s contradiction

This time, the center of attention is a list tied to Kang Geum-won. It includes the names of people close to former President Roh Moo-hyun who are alleged to have received money from Kang. It’s notable partly because the list includes many people who took relatively small amounts.

Along with Park Yeon-cha, the chairman of Taekwang Industrial, Kang, the chairman of Changshin Textile, is one of the top financial backers of former President Roh Moo-hyun. However, the two patrons are in many ways quite different. Chairman Kang has described Park as “someone who bought power with money.” He said Park was going in a different direction from himself or the president and, therefore, must be seen in a different light.

Kang might be right. He did not scatter money about indiscriminately like Park did. And while Park’s patronage of Roh ended with the change of administration, Kang continued to visit Bongha Village every week until recently and cared for those around Roh. Unlike Park, there has been no finding that Kang abused political power for special favors. While Park’s testimony incriminates the former president, Kang has denied Roh’s involvement until right before his arrest. While Park gave money under the table, Kang apparently used a bank account and made transparent transactions.

Ahn Hee-jeong, one of the former president’s closest aides, released a statement titled “In Defense of Chairman Kang” on April 7, the day the Daejeon Regional Prosecutors’ Office summoned Kang. When Ahn asked about his loyalty to Roh, Kang said, “I moved from Honam to Busan and started a business. People in Busan often say Honam natives lack loyalty and trust. But I will prove how trustworthy and faithful a Honam man can be. If President Roh Moo-hyun, a native of Busan, were loyal to Honam, I want to show my faith as a man from Honam. I want to correct the prejudice against people from Honam.”

His personal story is indeed compelling. Kang began helping the politician Roh early on. He told Roh’s aides not to accept suspicious money and promised to provide the necessary funds to help them pursue the right politics. Transactions with Ahn Hee-jeong show that Kang kept his word. In the course of Roh’s presidential campaign, he gave 1.9 billion won to Ahn, who ended up serving a prison term because of the dealings. When Ahn was released in 2005 and did not have money to pay his fine, Kang loaned him 100 million won. Kang appointed Ahn as an outside director of his country club and advanced 200 million won on his salary. Of course, they did not write an IOU.

While Kang says a considerable portion of the debt has been paid back, he does not remember the exact amount. The transaction between the political allies must have been different in nature from regular business transactions.

As Roh Geon-pyeong, Roh’s brother, has said, they are somewhat like a real family. If Park Yeon-cha is a distant relative, Kang in some ways was as close as a brother. Once you acknowledge the relationship as family, financial dealings within the family should be seen in the context of love. Familial affection cannot be measured by the law. Legally, prosecuting the family might seem like political persecution. When Kang was arrested he said, “I am being politically persecuted for helping those in need and helping the president.”

The problem with this is that Kang isn’t really a part of Roh’s family. Kang is not a blood relative who can share his property with Roh Moo-hyun and his aides.

And Kang is not an elected politician. He is a businessman. He can make donations to politicians he supports. The Political Fund Law, the Election Law and the Political Party Law explain in detail when and how much a businessman can donate to a politician.

Political donations are defined in the law in order to promote a political culture that prevents a plutocracy from developing through entanglements between politics and business.

Chairman Kang and the aides of Roh Moo-hyun broke the rules the citizens had agreed upon in reforming the country’s politics as they pursued their own idea of political reform.

What a self-contradiction.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang
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