Between service and sacrificeA corporate executive detained on charges of embezzlement shed tears before his children who visited him at the detention center. “I really worked hard for a good living… I really don’t know what I can tell you about how to live life,” he said.
He played the role of a middleman for the corporate owner’s attempt to create slush funds. If he didn’t do it, someone else would have had to. But it was him who ended up in the detention center. Some might ask why he didn’t turn down the order. If he had done so, he probably would have been given a negative evaluation at his next performance review and lost his position as an executive of the company.
A working-level staffer had to accept a decision that had already been made in the upper chain of command in return for a guaranteed income to support his family, and a social life. It’s a very exhausting and risky position. Even at this moment, many salaried workers are walking on the borderline to prison. In a tightly run organization, a person’s conscience is a luxurious accessory.
I sometimes think about a group of staffers at the Prime Minister’s Office, who had been questioned by the prosecution on charges of abusing their authority to run an illegal surveillance operation. They used to be elite public servants, but were fired from their jobs for secretly investigating civilians or destroying evidence. The people who were hiding behind them were safe.
A similar incident also happened in this administration. During the prosecution’s investigation into the allegations surrounding the so-called Chung Yoon-hoi scandal in December, a police lieutenant named Choi was found dead in his white SUV. He left a note for a fellow police officer who was working on the same case.
“I made this choice not because of the problem between you and me, but because of the problem of our honor. It may be belated, but you should defend the honor of our organization,” he wrote. The key suspects of the scandal were cleared of the charges amid the painful cries of Choi’s family, and the memories of their plight were not forgotten. Although an internal conflict between powerful people pushed one person to suicide, no one made a heartfelt apology. The prosecution promised it would continue to investigate the accusations surrounding personnel appointments, but no one actually believed they would do it.
The prosecution wrapped up its probe into the alleged bribery list, left by the late construction tycoon, Sung Wan-jong, on July 2. But only two close aides to Sung were prosecuted. They were indicted on charges of hiding or destroying evidence such as the expense reports for Sung’s company. Of the eight influential government officials and politicians named in Sung’s list, only two were indicted without detention, while five were cleared. One case was closed with the decision that the prosecution has no right to press charges against him.
When the prosecution asked the court to hand down prison terms, Sung’s associates told the court that they had done what they did to save the company as heads of their families, whose incomes were their only means of living. That, however, didn’t change the rules of business. Only after the working-level workers either died or were detained or abandoned, those who should take responsibility can safely return.
“Working-level officials deserve punishment, but it is just justice when the criminal responsibility is redistributed based on the reverse order of power,” a law school professor said. “It feels like hypocrisy to teach students who have no money or family influence to live a just life, and I sometimes feel guilty. I wonder if it would be better to teach them not to sign documents for other people without careful review, to always have an alibi and to never take responsibility for other people.”
What’s more lamentable is that the prosecutors who are investigating the working-level officials are working-level people themselves. There was one particularly noticeable part of the prosecution’s announcement at the conclusion of the Sung scandal.
“Roh Geon-pyeong, the older brother of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, was accused of receiving 500 million won ($ 444,000) in return for arranging Sung’s special pardon, but the statute of limitations has expired, so we will not press charges against him,” the prosecution announced. If they are not indicting him, why did the prosecutors provide such a friendly explanation? The context was the announcement of the conclusion of the investigation, but it was probably a report to the president. The entire process of the probe has left “political and moral hollowness,” quoting the president’s words.
“For the state to be maintained, we need someone who makes sacrifices and someone who serves. He, the defendant, sacrificed, and I, the prosecutor, served.”
The movie, “Minority Opinion” ended with that remark by a prosecutor who manipulated a case for the defense.
Even the floor leader, elected by the lawmakers of the ruling party, is nothing but an insignificant being before the president, and we are living our lives in a world, where we are forced to either serve or sacrifice. Will there be a choice between service and sacrifice? Does the principle of “equal justice under the law” only exist in law books?
This society, which consumes the sorrows and questions of insignificant beings, is probably rotten to the core.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 6, Page 30
*The author is the national news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Suk-chun