[Viewpoint] Cho’s critical blunderCho Hyun-oh, who has been nominated to head the National Police Agency, ignited a firestorm recently by making remarks on allegations that the late former President Roh Moo-hyun controlled a secret slush fund.
Conservative groups have demanded an independent counsel investigation to get to the bottom of the controversy.
Cho made the remarks during a lecture to the members of the Seoul police force, and it has since become a topic of ideological debate in Korean society.
It is rare for a lecture by a senior public servant to stir up such an enormous social conflict.
The 13-page transcript of the lecture is a significant document of our time. During the lecture, Cho, who was speaking as the head of the Seoul police, gave a sincere speech about how difficult it is to control demonstrators and how badly police power has been infringed upon.
Cho spoke about protestors armed with bamboo spears, journalists who recorded every move of the police commanders, lawmakers who stood on the front lines of violent demonstrations, and influential members of society who took advantage of issues such as the fear over mad cow disease, the Cheonan’s sinking and the death of a former president.
Cho lamented that uniformed police officers were under severe attack.
In his lecture, however, Cho tried to appeal to peace. He told commanders that the police must understand Korean society and practice introspection and self-restraint.
“Because we are the police of the Republic of Korea, we must never go against the Korean people’s emotions and media environment,” Cho said.
“It can be extremely difficult, but we must control our emotions,” he said. “The Korean people are too emotional, but that’s the reason we were able to build a dynamic Korea,” he added.
He also spoke extensively about the noble values of the police. Because the core of democracy is the rule of law, and it is the job of the police to protect it, the police are therefore true democracy fighters, he said.
It is in line with the argument that young female factory workers who helped build the Korean economy contributed more to the nation’s democracy than some pro-democracy activists because the country needed economic development in order to achieve a free democratic state.
Cho’s lecture showed that he was a patriot who has deep affection for the police and a strong sense of duty.
However, Cho made a grave mistake. Without grounds, he said Roh had maintained a slush fund. The people who were with Roh during his last days claim he was innocent.
Although Roh’s wife and his niece’s husband might have received large bribes and his confidant might have embezzled the president’s special affairs budget, Roh himself did not know, they argue.
If their arguments are true, Roh probably jumped off the mountain to defend his innocence and pride.
The suspicions about Roh’s slush fund account can tarnish his reputation completely.
On what grounds, then, did Cho try to deprive Roh of his reputation?
Roh was a weak president. Because of his distorted ideas about the nation, the Constitution, North Korea, the United States-South Korea alliance and capitalism, the country was divided and suffered. If he had been a student, he would have been a very poor one.
But just because he performed poorly, there are no grounds for us to suspect him of cheating. If Roh had indeed maintained a slush fund, the legacy of his five-year presidency, his suicide and Korea’s image will all be altered.
This was a grave issue, but Cho was careless with it.
He did not act like a top police official who investigates crimes and enforces the law. He should have had at least a small piece of evidence for such grand accusations, but he said he had merely seen the rumors in magazines and on the Internet.
Investigators who investigated Roh confirmed that there was no slush fund, but the suspicion hasn’t died. Many still speculate that Cho must have mentioned the allegation because he, as the Seoul police chief, had information.
How will Cho take responsibility for the damage to the late former president and for the pain he has caused Roh’s family?
Cho’s lecture was a candid analysis of our times and a valuable testimony of the difficulties facing the police force. Because he was named the chief of the National Police Agency, many Koreans were able to read the transcript. But because of his critical blunder, he may not be able to take the job.
He stressed the importance of the rule of law, but he will soon face a prosecutorial investigation for defaming the former president.
After all of this, will he still be able to head the law enforcement authority of the nation?
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin