Another one bites the dustFormer President Lee Myung-bak was placed behind bars Friday for a pre-trial detention by prosecutors investigating him for multiple corruption and criminal charges in a rare back-to-back arrest of presidents for wrongdoings in office. Just a year ago, former President Park Geun-hye was sent to the same detention center soon after being removed from office after the Constitutional Court upheld legislative impeachment.
Despite our pride in having achieved democratization in a very short period, Koreans have watched four presidents stand trial for crimes in office. If Lee is found guilty in court, there will have been no former presidents who have retired with dignity.
Nine years ago, retired President Roh Moo-hyun jumped off a mountain after he was grilled by state prosecutors on bribery allegations. The legacy of presidents facing state prosecutors after leaving office has continued. The investigation of Roh was stalled as senior prosecutors were indecisive. The situation reversed after the liberal front won back governing power. Park was immediately arrested after being ousted from office. Prosecutors embarked on investigations of her predecessor Lee in September. Prosecutors did not waver in their belief that they would have the upper hand in court if they take the accused into custody for investigation. They cornered Lee’s aides first and moved closer to their former boss until they put him behind bars. They were contradicting themselves as they found no traces of wrongdoing when Lee came under probes under the same accusation of illegal fundraising through a suspicious company during his presidential candidacy and his presidency. Their case with Lee best underscores the prosecutors’ obedience to the active governing power.
Lee, like his predecessor, did not live up to public expectations. He denied all wrongdoing and evaded comments, but claimed to be victim of a political vendetta. Just before he was arrested, he posted a handwritten letter on social media regretting his failing of the people. If he had come clean earlier and sincerely sought public understanding, society could have been sympathetic as it is painful to see almost all presidents face criminal charges.
The prosecution must watch itself. The court should make judgments that the suspect can accept. The series of tragic ends for Korean presidents only justify the reasoning that the mighty power vested in the president should be whittled down. Amending the constitution is the only way to stop this notorious post-retirement tradition for Korean presidents.
JoongAng Sunday, March 24, Page 34