Rooting out prosecution’s ghosts

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Rooting out prosecution’s ghosts

Politicians are holding their breath as the unexpected return of a central figure linked to a major tax and bribery scandal may open a Pandora’s box that could cause turmoil within both the ruling and opposition camps.

Han Sang-yool, who stepped down as National Tax Service commissioner in January 2009 on suspicion of bribing his predecessor with a valuable painting in exchange for a promotion, returned suddenly on Thursday. He left for the United States soon after his resignation and has since defied prosecutors’ summons.

Han is also suspected of holding key information in the corruption case involving Taekwang Industrial Chairman Park Yeon-cha, whose bribery scandal sparked an investigation into former President Roh Moo-hyun. As a senior tax official, Han used to say President Roh would be in hot water if Park were arrested. He allegedly ordered the Seoul Regional Tax Office to conduct the tax probe into the Busan-based Taekwang Industrial, bypassing the Busan Regional Tax Office, which was responsible for the investigation.

The case has lingered for more than two years. The prosecution must uncover whether the tax probe was motivated by politics from above or Han’s wish to cling to power.

Han was unseated after he was accused of offering a painting as a bribe to then-NTS chief Jun Gun-pyo. He claims he stepped down because he was caught providing golf games to people close to President Lee Myung-bak in late 2008. Both charges constitute corruption.

Meanwhile, the opposition camp suspects Han has documents that can prove that President Lee is the real owner of an expensive plot of land in Dogok-dong, southern Seoul, purchased through illegal speculation, a matter that came up during Lee’s presidential campaign.

The prosecution should return to the case it failed to solve in 2007. It must remember its name and credibility are at stake in the way it deals with this high-profile case. It has always been suspected of dragging its feet on major political cases.

The case has remained unsolved because the prosecution did not order a travel ban or work to bring Han back. It seems too coincidental that Han returned when the prosecution is wrapping up the Park Yeon-cha case.

Political corruption has dominated politics for too long. The prosecution must commit to rooting out the deep-seated connection between corporations and politics once and for all. It must open the Pandora’s box and unleash the ghosts.
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