A muddy mea culpaPresident Lee Myung-bak has given an apology for alleged corruption involving his relatives and aides for the first time since taking office in 2008. In a nationally televised New Year’s address yesterday, Lee said, “In retrospect, I cannot help but say that I am sorry,” adding that he will apply stricter standards on his inner circle from now on. A Blue House official said that Lee had dealt with the issue comprehensively. Though Lee said he was sorry, it still falls way short of our expectations as the level of his apology was not enough to appease public outrage over a spate of corruption incidents involving his relatives and friends.
Lee’s apology as an incumbent president - for his acquaintances’ alleged illegal activities - was the fourth such mea culpa since the establishment of the Korean government in 1948. His predecessors - Roh Moo-hyun, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam - also lowered their heads before the public after their sons and brothers turned out to have been involved in various sleazy activities. We cannot but feel sad that such an unfortunate scene has been repeated.
Despite President Lee’s proud remark last year that his government was “an ethically perfect one,” a number of corruption scandals arose. Kim Jae-hong, a cousin of first lady Kim Yoon-ok, was arrested last December on charges of having received 400 million won ($344,000) from the head of the troubled Jeil Savings Bank in return for using his influence to stop the closing of the bank. Hwang Tae-sup, husband of the first lady’s elder sister, is under investigation on the same charge. A nephew-in-law of the president was accused for stock-price rigging.
In addition, the president’s aides, including Shin Jae-min, former vice minister of culture, sports and tourism, and Eun Jin-soo, former inspection commissioner at the Board of Audit and Inspection, are currently serving prison terms for various types of corruption and irregularities.
President Lee plans to hold a New Year’s press conference later this month. At the event, he should make his position clear on why his confidantes and relatives were involved in corruption; how he will deal with it; how much responsibility he should take; and what plans he has to prevent repetitions. Lee must make as frank an apology as possible and take strong measures not to allow repetitions of the disgraceful goings on. He must bear in mind that unless he addresses the issue clearly, he can hardly expect to finish the remaining years of his presidency smoothly.