[Viewpoint] A giant with unanswered questionsFormer president Kim Dae-jung’s health has grown unstable. His condition was so critical at one point that his aides discussed funeral procedures with the government.
While people might evaluate him differently, there is no doubt that Kim was a giant. His approach to unification spawned various troubles, but we will certainly remember that he at least sought a new way.
Of course, when anyone is facing death, people tend to become more generous in their assessments, because death puts an end to a chapter. And because many Korean presidents have met dishonorable ends, Koreans ardently hope for an honorable departure of a president.
But Kim is more than a mere former president facing death. He is an internationally respected politician, honored for his struggle for democratization and for the Nobel Peace Prize. Such accomplishments deserve our recognition. However, there is one issue we must address before going overboard in praising his achievements.
When we investigate a person’s past, especially that of a politician, we need to be careful about two points.
First, there will be rumors. But we should always maintain the presumption of innocence no matter how plausible a rumor might sound. We need to follow the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. And we should understand that when a rumor becomes so widespread that it appears to be official, it can cause critical damage to a person’s honor.
Second, such an investigation must not be exploited politically. When political motives are involved, truth is likely to be distorted or exaggerated.
To its credit, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission abided by these rules, proving that these principles are very important.
Let’s be specific. Allegations of creating slush funds and stashing away assets abroad have constantly dogged former president Kim. And they were not just rumors, but reported matters raised several times by the media. In June 2006, the Monthly Chosun reported that the FBI was investigating the illegal inflow of Kim’s funds into the United States. It claimed that the former president created a 300 billion won ($244.9 million) slush fund in 2001 through domestic financial institutions.
The National Movement for Defense of Liberty, headed by former Vice-speaker of the National Assembly Jang Gyeong-sun, began a signature-collecting campaign to urge prosecutors to investigate the allegations. Adding to the allegations, the Monthly Chosun’s March 2009 issue featured an interview with Choi Sun-yeong, former chairman of Shindonga Group, who claimed that Kim’s followers helped dismember his 20 trillion won company. We have seen many examples of the prosecutors getting involved in a certain case after public accusations surface. But not so here. The prosecutors and the accused party have been strangely unresponsive to the allegations. Major media have also seemed content to let the matter pass.
If prosecutors do not indict him for these allegations, does it mean there was no case, since indictment is an exclusive right of prosecutors? If major media do not raise the issue, should these allegations disappear?
It is a structural problem of our society that some issues are overlooked for the wrong reasons. People accept certain conclusions when no one, in fact, has made a decision. It is not a healthy society where people take a decision for granted.
We can hazard a few guesses. The media and the prosecutors might want to refrain from defaming the former president by advancing so-far unverified claims. Also, they might not want to avoid lighting a fuse to an explosive issue. Or there might be some sacred grounds upon which the law does not apply.
Kim Dae-jung has made many comments on today’s politics. He has crossed the line, calling the Lee Myung-bak administration an autocracy and urging people to take action against a “dictatorship.” As I watched him expressing these opinions, I thought he might have some uncertainty deep in his heart. When you are unstable, your responses are overly sensitive and exaggerated. Even if a fat person does not eat in front of others, we assume he still binges while he claims to be on a diet.
I cannot understand how the allegations that include specific claims of fact are still buried. That is not desirable for the health of our society.
However, it is now too late to change the situation. It’s too cruel to demand that a man on his deathbed clarify these allegations. Also, investigations would take time. Not too long ago, we let one of the former presidents leave us disgracefully. For the honor of the nation, we should not have any more tragic presidential deaths. But it is regrettable that the allegations are buried.
Now, the matter is strictly in the hands of the family. They need to put a proper conclusion to Kim Dae-jung’s accomplishments for what he called “a nation where justice flows like a river.”
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk