Corruption embedded in DNAIt is heartbreaking to see the Lee Myung-bak administration fall so low in the final stage of its five-year tenure. We had hoped this government would end differently from those that came before and presidents who all retired amid corruption scandals. The last president even killed himself due to a corruption scandal involving his wife. But hoping such graft would not rear its ugly head again was wishful thinking. It seems as though proclivity to corruption is in Korean leaders’ DNA and cannot be removed.
Lee caused a furor by attempting to secure a luxurious plot of land on which to build his retirement home using his son’s name and the federal budget. Meanwhile, cousins of the first lady are serving prison sentences for taking bribes from a mutual savings bank and politician hopefuls. The president’s chief press secretary and a vice minister of culture, sports and tourism are also on trial for allegedly accepting bribes.
Apart from Lee himself, five so-called kingmakers including the president’s brother and politician Lee Sang-deuk helped him win the presidential race in 2007. It has subsequently emerged that a number of them - or their associates - are also tied to graft. For example, a stack of cash worth 700 million won ($613,000) was found in one of Lee Sang-deuk’s closets, while one of his aides has been indicted for taking millions of won in bribes. The elder Lee’s close confidante Park Young-joon, a former vice minister of knowledge economy, also stands charged with taking bribes. Former Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae, another kingmaker, resigned from the post after he was found to have distributed cash envelopes in order to win the election to select the party head. And Choi See-joong, one of Lee’s political mentors, is now being questioned by prosecutors for receiving millions of won during the presidential race.
In other words, more than half of the original power block that helped Lee ascend to power have been discovered to be corrupt.
Many people advised the president’s brother to retire from politics because they foresaw the temptations that lay ahead. But the two brothers turned a deaf ear because they lacked the moral and philosophical basis to have such foresight. North Korea is threatening to attack but the country is engrossed with corruption scandals. The government should be ashamed.
The incoming government should take these lessons to heart, eschew power sharing and revolving-door appointments and establish a supervisory board to keep an eye on the next president’s inner circle.