Investigate the prime minister

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Investigate the prime minister

After accusations arose that he accepted 30 million won ($27,385) in cash from Sung Wan-jong, the former chairman of Keongnam Enterprises who committed suicide last week after leaving behind a note detailing the names of core members of the Park Geun-hye administration who received illegal money from him, Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo said, “If there is evidence that I had taken the money, I will lay down my life.” Regrettably, though, only a precious few will believe in the prime minister’s innocence. Despite his flat denial of a close relationship with Sung, circumstantial evidence suggests otherwise. When Lee almost failed to pass a confirmation hearing, the former business leader led a vigorous campaign to support Lee.

Of course, the late Sung’s list of people who took money is but a one-sided claim. Given the later pinpointing of the timing of money given to the prime minister, however, some of Sung’s allegations are proving true. So far, Lee’s explanation of several suspicions at confirmation hearings have proved not true, as seen in his frequent flip-flops on suspicions of draft dodging and real estate speculation.

The prime minister pleading innocence by making the most extreme claims only intensifies public suspicion. It is rare for a prime minister to get entangled in an alleged bribery scandal and for a ruling party to urge an investigation into him. If the government chooses to sit on its hands, though, it will certainly lead to the paralysis of the administration.

If the prime minister is reluctant to come up with sincere explanations, the prosecution must immediately launch an investigation into him. The statute of limitations expires after five years. The prosecution has already uncovered 3.2 billion won of suspicious spending by Sung. But it’s unclear if the prosecution can really get to the bottom of the case given Lee’s political heft in the administration. Unless he gives up all his privileges, the government must appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the case.

Digging into Lee’s alleged bribery could serve as a litmus test of the government’s determination to investigate the far-reaching scandal. President Park must declare she will not get reports from the prosecution on the investigation and Lee must sincerely comply with the probe.

The prime minister himself vowed to root out corruption. Despite the relatively small sums compared to the 1980s and 1990s, this case will surely invite public outrage. Korea’s ruling class is not free from the shameful legacy of the old days.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 15, Page 30

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