[Viewpoint] Law must dictate how Roh is treated

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[Viewpoint] Law must dictate how Roh is treated

To have a fruitful discussion about whether former President Roh Moo-hyun should be indicted and detained, it is necessary to assess which charges against him can be proven.

If - as he claims - Roh only recently found out about the $6 million bribe in question, the former president will still be able to avoid legal responsibility.

Judging from reports so far, though, prosecutors are quite confident that they can prove the charges. Common sense tells us it would have taken a Herculean effort to keep such information from the former president.

According to Roh’s scenario, his wife, son, nephew and closest aide collaborated and deceived the president.

It is hard to believe that his closest aide - former Presidential Secretary Chung Sang-moon - was involved. Roh and Chung studied together for the national bar exam when they were young and entered the Blue House together. In this type of relationship, it is natural that the two friends would share information and avoid keeping secrets from each other.

If the family and the aide wanted to keep this from the president, they would have had to make sure that Chairman Park Yeon-cha, who gave the bribe, avoided telling Roh. But there are no signs that they made such efforts.

Roh’s side puts pressure on the prosecutors, demanding that they present evidence. But Roh’s side should be the one presenting evidence to prove the claim that the former president was left in the dark. It seems impossible to keep the president entirely in the dark on such a big issue; it is more likely that no such attempt was made at all.

If the prosecutors are confident about their investigation, they should both seek an arrest warrant and indict the former president.

There are news reports that top prosecutors are considering not detaining him.

It is understandably a tough decision, but it is important to be consistent. There is no reason to treat Roh differently from other politicians who were arrested in connection with the Park Yeon-cha scandal.

When it comes to how he ruled the country, we should be understanding and respect the former president, trusting that he tried to do his best.

But a case involving bribery must be taken far more seriously.

Roh perhaps thought Park provided the money as a donation, with no strings attached.

Park, after all, was extremely close to Roh, and the two had a long history together. But Park is not a philanthropist. He is a businessman who likely offered money under the table in order to gain favor and benefits for his business.

The former president’s lax attitude enabled Park to offer bribes to those close to Roh. Therefore, Roh is and should be at the center of the whole scandal. To be more tolerant to the central figure of this drama would be to laugh in the face of constitutionalism, where equality is key.

Some people aren’t interested in the case. But that does not diminish the seriousness of what is at hand. When compared to former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, who both took money from companies as if they were collecting taxes, Roh’s scandal is closer to bribery.

Although the amount is smaller, times have changed, as have the expectations for a president’s behavior. Thus, it is reasonable to regard Roh’s case more seriously.

The logic behind the argument that former President Roh must not be detained or indicted is that even if he is guilty, such a decision would hammer the dignity and social stability of our country.

Humans created the law, and therefore it is not perfect.

However, judging the severity of a crime and how we respond to it through the lens of how it will affect our reputation and the dignity of the nation is not the right approach.

Although some people disagree, using a criminal and legal system that society has already established and agreed upon is better for social stability and development.

In doing so we can see where we stand now as a nation and try to find out where we are going.

*The writer is director of the magazine Zeitgeist, or Sidaejeongsin. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hong Jin-pyo
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