The presidential lessonsA familiar scene from the past two decades is unfolding again. Lee Sang-deuk, elder brother of President Lee Myung-bak, was summoned by the prosecution, not for having wielded violence against those who unjustly attacked his brother’s administration or because of power abuse for a better future of his brother. He was subpoenaed on charges of taking bribes to the tune of hundreds of millions of won from greedy CEOs of savings banks who misappropriated a huge amount of money from their clients. In front of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office building, Lee said, “My heart really aches.” But ordinary people’s hearts are torn apart.
Even though we have often seen corruption among presidents’ relatives and confidantes under each administration, Lee’s case defies comparison. A seasoned six-term lawmaker with an outstanding career, he could have easily become the speaker of the National Assembly - unless his brother became president. As a lawmaker for the ruling Saenuri Party, he made a decisive contribution to his brother’s victory in the primary for the presidential election in 2007. Later on, he served as a “political manager” for his brother after he won the election. President Lee entrusted him with a slew of tasks for the national interest.
Since first elected as a representative in 1983, Lee vividly witnessed a chain of corruption among presidents’ relatives wreaking havoc on one administration after another, as seen in President Chun Doo Hwan’s self-banishment to a Buddhist temple in remote Gangwon and the tragic suicide of President Roh Moo-hyun in his hometown.
Lee cheated people and made incomprehensible remarks about the 700 million won ($615,438) found in one of his aide’s bank accounts. He explained the money was leftover from donations for family events and real estate deals. Would ordinary citizens, who are evicted from their rented houses for a lack of 70 million won, buy his explanation? The Lee Myung-bak administration is playing out the corruption drama as if following a script. Beginning with his friends and close aides, the drama has now reached a climax with his brother at the center.
In the general election in April 2008, many politicians and the press appealed for Lee’s courageous departure from the political stage for his brother’s successful presidency. But he dismissed the calls. Now it’s Park Geun-hye and other presidential hopefuls’ turn to remember the ugly scene evolving in the twilight of President Lee.