The shackles on Park Geun-hyeLaw and politics are different. Park Geun-hye, presidential candidate of the Saenuri Party, is a politician, but she is dismissing politics to talk about the law, especially over the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation issue.
On the controversy, Park insists, “It has nothing to do with me legally.” That is true. Park resigned as chairwoman of the foundation seven years ago. Legally, Choi Phil-lip and other board members are running the foundation, so Park keeps repeating, “The board members will make a decision.”
Although the assets of the foundation were forcibly seized from Busan-based businessman Kim Ji-tae shortly after the military coup of Park Chung Hee, the candidate’s father, there is no legal problem associated with it. The basis for that is the Seoul Central District Court’s ruling in February. Kim’s family filed a lawsuit to retrieve the assets, and the court concluded that the seizure was forced but the statute of limitation to reclaim the assets has expired, thus the foundation is not required to return the assets to the family.
That is a judgment solely based on the law. Although the seizure was forcible, the court saw that it would undermine “legal stability” to reverse an incident that took place 50 years ago and order the foundation to return assets it has kept for 50 years. “Legal stability” means that whether it is illegal or not, something that was kept for decades should be recognized as its current state and protected to contribute to the stability of the society. Because the law is meant to maintain order, the judgment should be respected.
Under that judgment, there is no legal problem for the foundation to dispose of its assets based on its own decision. That was why Choi decided to sell Busan Ilbo, a part of the foundation’s properties, and planned to announce it on Friday. He also held a meeting with MBC executives to discuss a plan to sell the foundation’s 30 percent stake in the broadcaster.
Although the developments turned into a political issue, Park told reporters Monday, “I guess the board of directors of the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation made such a decision. Neither I nor the opposition party has any right to tell them what to do.”
Saenuri members demanded that Choi step down, and reporters asked Park about the situation again on Tuesday. She said, “I have told you everything yesterday.”
But when we look at the situation from a political point of view, it is a completely different story. In terms of politics, public sentiment will become the yardstick, not the law. And that yardstick will encompass ethics, morals, common sense and emotions. Based on that standard, Park is deeply tied to the foundation politically. When we go back to its root, the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation was created by Park’s father Park Chung Hee. The foundation was named after Park’s parents, and that is the proof of her blood tie to it.
Not only the past, but also the present of the foundation is tied to her. Choi was Park’s secretary at the Park Chung Hee Blue House. After Park’s assassination in 1979, he gave up his public title as Korea’s ambassador to Bahrain and decided to serve Park as a private secretary. It was Park who sent him back into officialdom.
Choi then became the head of the foundation, succeeding Park. “If I can be any help to his offspring, I will do anything,” Choi still says. That was probably why he made a plan to support the half-price tuition campaign in Busan and South Gyeongsang with the money to be raised by selling the Busan Ilbo.
The assets of the foundation are also a political problem. Just as the court ruled, it is true that its assets were forcibly seized. Kim, along with his wife and executives of his company, were arrested on charges of tax evasion shortly after Park’s military coup. At the time, an investigator of the Korea Central Intelligence Agency, the main spy agency, threatened them to “surrender your wealth to the state if you want to live.” Only after vowing to give up their wealth in written statements were they released.
In terms of politics, therefore, it is inappropriate for Choi to dispose of the foundation’s assets at his own discretion. And common sense concludes that Park Geun-hye is the only one who can stop Choi. She is facing a situation in which she must show her ability and will to politically resolve the controversy because she is a presidential candidate who must demonstrate the depths of her political ability. If Park hadn’t run in the race, the controversy surrounding the Joengsu Scholarship Foundation would not have been so hotly debated.
The foundation is a political legacy left by her father - a legacy of dictatorship, brutality and unfairness. Park needs to embrace both the light and shadow of her father’s legacy. It is frustrating to see her trying to bury the facts of 50 years ago with today’s laws. Politics makes and revises law, and politics must walk ahead of the law. The controversy surrounding the foundation must be resolved with today’s politics. What’s needed now is not Park Chung Hee’s determination to save the country, but Park Geun-hye’s spirit of the current times.
* The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Byung-sang