Where is the atonement?Second in line at the top tier of power is the chief of the staff. The chiefs share a president’s glory as well as his disgraces. A total of 33 chiefs have served under presidents since the founding of the Korean government. Kim Chung-yum, who still holds the record for the longest-serving chief of staff, led the country out of poverty with the drive for industrialization and served nine years and two months under President Park Chung Hee. Hahm Pyong-choon, diplomat-turned-presidential secretary, died in the 1983 bombing in Yangon, Burma (Now known as Myanmar), in an assassination attempt against President Chun Doo Hwan by North Korea.
When it comes to political corruption, chief presidential secretaries’ black money is the most dangerous and shameful. When they go bad, their misdeeds can deal a fatal blow to the president as well as the administration. Of the 33 chiefs of staff, one served a prison term for bribery. He was Park Jie-won, chief secretary to President Kim Dae-jung. Han Gwang-ok was also found guilty of taking bribes worth 30 million won ($25,470) , but he filed an appeal after the person who claimed to have given him the money recently confessed to lying under oath.
Park served two years and six months in jail for receiving 100 million won from tycoons of the SK and Kumho groups. In his final words in court in 2004, he pledged to repent for falling prey to shady “customs.” We have to wonder about that statement: Since when did it become a custom for the senior presidential secretary to pocket bribes? Nevertheless, he appeared to be sincerely sorry.
Park had a stunning fall from grace and became one of the most influential politicians to admit to a felony. But his comeback was equally dramatic. In 2008, he returned to the political stage by winning a legislative seat. In just two years, he became the floor leader of the Democratic Party. In the incoming 19th National Assembly, he will serve as floor leader for the main opposition Democratic United Party for the second time while chairing the party’s emergency committee. He is dubbed the Kingmaker for his maneuvering with potential presidential candidates like Moon Jae-in and Lee Hae-chan. The 70-year-old veteran politician may be at the peak of his political career.
Upon returning to the legislature in 2008, Park carried a heavy onus on his shoulder. He was obliged to restore his reputation and honor the people who forgave him for his crime. Instead of demonstrating integrity and responsibility, however, he became more sensational, outspoken, accusatory and wayward. He attacked the president and the administration with more rancor than reason. The government and ruling party often ran into political stalemates because of his reckless behavior.
During government questioning, Democratic Party Rep. Kang Gi-jung in November 2010 claimed that First Lady Kim Yoon-ok was behind the bribery scandal involving Nam Sang-tae, then president of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. Kim allegedly met with the Nam couple and, upon receiving a bribe, ordered the senior secretary on civil affairs to have Nam retain his chief executive position. It would have been scandalous enough to impeach the president. Park rubbed it in by saying the party had substantial evidence to back Kang’s story. But neither Park nor Kang was able to present any evidence.
In January 2011, Democratic Party Rep. Lee Seok-hyun took aim at Ahn Sang-soo, then head of the ruling Grand National Party. He claimed Ahn’s son was admitted to the Seoul National University law school through the back door. Park stepped in to say that Lee was correct in his information and that they had given Ahn a pass on the scandal because he had been cooperative with the opposition. But again they failed to back up their claim with evidence. Instead, they made fools of themselves when SNU flatly denied the allegation.
The crown of Park’s career record will be his second term as the floor leader. His footing in society has become weighty again. And yet his tongue remains as light as ever. He recently claimed Park Geun-hye, the presidential frontrunner among candidates in the conservative camp, has met Park Tae-kyu, a lobbyist for savings banks, several times. He said he has a taped record of testimony from a witness to their meetings, which he has yet to produce. Strangely, he again chooses to hide evidence that should be in his favor. Park Geun-hye has filed charges for defamation.
The reelected floor leader also was accused of receiving 15 billion won from Chung Mong-hun, chairman of Hyundai Asan, who committed suicide. He was acquitted in a trial in which he insisted that prosecutors’ indictment was based simply on a one-sided, unproven story from the briber. The man who pleaded innocence and had been a victim of a groundless accusation is doing the same to others. He who once pledged atonement should know better.