Will the real MB please stand up?

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Will the real MB please stand up?

Choi See-joong, a former top communications regulator dubbed a political mentor to President Lee Myung-bak, reconfirmed at a trial that the kickbacks he received from a real estate developer went to finance Lee’s presidential campaign in 2007. Choi has been indicted on charges of pocketing 600 million won ($525,000) from the developer of Pi City, an ambitious redevelopment project in southern Seoul.

Choi surprised reporters by admitting to taking the bribes when the case first blew up in April, and again by claiming that they were used to fund opinion polls during the election year. When the presidential office refuted his allegation, Choi retracted his comments. But now he has come forward again in court and said they were in fact true.

Testimony from other people suggest that Choi used the funds for campaigning ahead of the Grand National Party - subsequently renamed the Saenuri Party - convention to select a presidential candidate in 2007. Whether it was used for primaries or the presidential election, the fact that the money was acquired illegally does not change.

Now that the issue has been formerly raised in court, the prosecution should extend its investigation to illegal fund-raising during the last presidential campaign. Lee Sang-deuk, elder brother of the current president, and Representative Chung Doo-un of the ruling party are also accused of being involved in illegal election fund-raising. The prosecution, however, has been reluctant to extend Lee’s case beyond bribery charges, despite new evidence suggesting illegal campaign fund-raising.

This has dogged Korean politics for years. In 2003, the GNP was laughingly dubbed “the rip-off party” because of its members’ practice of leaving dinners hosted by large corporate owners and executives with boxes of cash in their car trunks. The 2007 election can hardly be expected to have been much different.

It won’t be easy to carry out the investigation while the president is still in office, but this should not cause the prosecution to shy away. The president should be held accountable and cannot hide behind excuses forever.
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