Play fair with ChunNo one sides with one family in Korea. The National Assembly approved a special law for the Chun family with an overwhelming 97.4 percent of votes. Following a series of search and seizure raids, about 40 people associated with the Chun family were barred from leaving the country. The head of this outcast family is former President Chun Doo Hwan.
He was the president of Korea for eight years. His rise to power sparked the massacre in Gwangju and countless young people lost their lives or were forced to surrender their dreams and freedom during his rule. A special law to go after his hidden assets is the natural outcome to his misdeeds and corruption. But some recent developments feel uncomfortable.
The legislative review subcommittee of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly reviewed the draft of the special law on collecting assets linked to a public servant’s crime on June 25. Lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties had a conversation and it was recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
“The bill specified the real name of a concerned person,” said Representative Park Beom-kye of the Democratic Party. “If this bill is approved, concerns could arise that it was created with the intention to go after a particular person.” Representative Kweon Seong-dong of the Saenuri Party replied, “It is intended to go after someone.” Park raised concerns that it was inappropriate for the Justice Ministry to stipulate that in the bill.
In fact, the bill demonstrates public sentiment toward the Chun family. In addition to an extension of a deadline to collect the fine imposed on Chun in the 1990s, which he refuses to pay, the law also allowed the government to confiscate hidden assets and profits from Chun as well as his family.
The prosecution was given rights to conduct raids and go after hidden assets by questioning the associates of the former president and his family. Furthermore, the law also made clear that no one can refuse the prosecution’s request to provide data by citing other laws.
Based on this special law, eight prosecutors and 20 investigators are engaged in an intensive investigation. They are investigating companies, real estate properties, safe deposit boxes in banks and overseas accounts linked to the family. The problem, however, is that money does not usually bear a name tag. It is not easy to confirm when and how Chun’s slush funds were moved around. And speculation has spread throughout the judicial community.
“The Supreme Court finalized its ruling and ordered Chun to pay his fine in 1997,” a prosecutor-turned-lawyer said. “Sixteen years have passed. I wonder if any records and evidence are still left behind.”
“It just burdens the court,” said a senior judge. “The family can challenge the prosecution’s action to collect assets and then a trial has to take place. What if the court rules that the money is not part of Chun’s slush funds. Will the public accept it?”
The most convincing scenario is pressuring Chun with tax evasion and embezzlement charges against his children so that the former president will be forced to pay the fine. The prosecution hinted that it wants Chun to pay the fine voluntarily before it pushes the probe any further.
Some also say that there’s a high possibility that the assets of the Chun family must have come from the former president since it was unclear where they came from and that they should be confiscated based on that assumption.
Although collecting a fine levied on Chun and any possible corruption of his family are two separate issues, they don’t seem to care as long as the fine is collected.
Until now, Korean society has reached a consensus that the prosecution can only exercise its authority over a legitimate target. It is questionable if this case should be an exception. “I have gone to Baekdamsa Temple in exile and also spent time in prison. My wife paid some of the fine. Why do I have to undergo another raid?” Chun reportedly told his associate.
He must have complained because the government and prosecution in the past did not take appropriate measures. That’s why we agree that delayed justice is not justice. Although the prosecutors say that they did not have a mandate to go after Chun in the past, why didn’t they think to propose a revision to the law? And how was it made possible now?
This is the final opportunity for Chun as well as the prosecution. It is embarrassing to see Chun’s continuing resistance. Society supports the prosecution collecting the fine from Chun, but the prosecution must never forget how it uncovers hidden assets is as important as chasing the unpaid 167.2 billion won ($148.9 million) fine.
Going after him calmly but persistently based on law is the true way to put the Chun Doo Hwan era in our distant past. If we merely demand an eye for an eye from Chun, it will only mean we are defeated by him.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Seok-cheon