[Viewpoint] Leave Roh’s trial to the courts

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[Viewpoint] Leave Roh’s trial to the courts

Former President Roh Moo-hyun emphasized and, it once seemed, symbolized morality and integrity when he was in office.

So it’s even more disappointing to hear about the corruption that prosecutors say his family and an aide were involved in.

Shortly after the start of the Roh administration, I wrote an open letter to the president in the Feb. 20, 2003, issue of the JoongAng Ilbo, advising him to keep an eye on his family members and close aides.

The current scandal, therefore, comes as an even bigger disappointment to me.

From a legal point of view, the key to the scandal is whether the former president knew that his family and an aide were involved in corruption.

The prosecutors maintain that, according to common sense, Roh must have known about it.

Roh’s side, of course, strongly denies those assumptions.

The court will determine which side is telling the truth. But, so far, it’s clear that this whole mess is a political death sentence for the former president. Regardless of whether Roh is found innocent or guilty, the political result will not likely change.

Roh has and will come under an enormous amount of criticism from the prosecutors, the press and the general public. When the ruling comes around, he will have already been severely damaged politically and socially, even if he is found innocent.

The incumbent administration and conservatives may be looking forward to seeing Roh lose face. They probably want to sever his head from his already-dead body and hang it on a pole in a public square.

But I’d like to quote a line from the Korean movie “Friend.” When one of the heroes has been stabbed a dozen times, he tells the attacker to stop, saying, “That’s enough, I have had enough.” Perhaps Roh will have to utter those words as well.

The Roh scandal must be investigated thoroughly and fairly. Fairness means that the investigation must not cross the line or become too severe.

To accomplish this, I have a few suggestions.

The chief prosecutor must decide not to detain the former president.

As there is little possibility that we would discover any new evidence by doing so, there is no reason to detain him. This also would follow an important principle in the code of criminal procedure: to detain the accused only when it is absolutely necessary.

In the past, former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo were detained. But the charges against them are very different from the charges against Roh Moo-hyun. So dressing Roh in prison clothes and handcuffing him will only embarrass him, not lead to any new confession or truth.

To be sure, former President Roh must deliver a sincere apology to the people - separate from the whole court procedure. He must feel a heavy responsibility for this, and his reputation has crumbled. [The commentator] Cho Kap-je mockingly says that Roh is a present that progressives gave to conservatives.

The former president must return to his old image, “Roh Moo-hyun, the fool.” He was beautiful when he was not afraid of being imprisoned while working for the labor movement and when he made sacrifices while running for election in order to break regionalism. Now that his power and influence are gone, he should become a humble fool.

The era of Roh is over. We should leave this scandal to the courts. Attorneys will decide how much legal responsibility he bears.

Politicians, journalists and the people should focus on other, more important things. They must not get too wrapped up in his court trial at the expense of other vital issues, such as the economic crisis, the world’s economic problems, education and the deterioration of inter-Korean relations.
*The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Kuk
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