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[Opinion] Presidential Secretary for Petition

Posted February. 26, 2007 07:23,   


On the night of August 30, 1957, the chief of a police station in North Gyeongsang Province was stunned to hear a man telling him on the phone, "I am Lee Kang-seok," for that was the name of the son of Vice President Lee Ki-bung, the step son of President Rhee Syngman. The chief rushed to Kang Sung-byung, who claimed to be Lee Kang-seok, and treated him very cordially, telling him, "You are such a prestigeous guest." The bogus Lee Kang-seok was treated courteously by the mayor, the county governor and the police chief of the region and even got some bribes by saying, "I came here at the secret request of my father to observe how storm and flood damage is dealt with and investigate possible irregularities done by local government officials." He was arrested after trying to stay at the residence of the governor of North Gyeongsang Province, without knowing that the son of the provincial governor actually was a friend of Lee Kang-seok`s.

Proclaiming oneself as someone related to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae worked even in the governments that came after democratization. During the five years since 2001, there has been a whopping 59 such cases revealed. This is why relatives of the president were even considered "possible suspects." The police`s special investigation division (widely known as the "Sajik-dong team") and the special investigation team of the National Police Headquarters were designed to prevent irregularities of these presidential relatives. The main job of the presidential secretary for petition has been to prevent the president`s relatives from conducting such irregularities. Despite these restraints, there have often been irregularities involving the children, relatives or aides of the president in the late days of presidency, accelerating his lame duck status.

The current administration also runs a system that constantly monitors around 900 relatives of the president. Though a major case or irregularity has yet to be disclosed, there have been speculations about irregularities of these presidential relatives. Early in President Roh Moo-hyun`s tenure, his elder brother was suspected of receiving bribes for personnel matters. In February last year, it was speculated that an in-law of the president had a car accident while driving under influence three years ago but Cheong Wa Dae tried to conceal the fact that he drank and drove. Regarding the scandal over the video arcade gambling machine, "Sea Story," there was speculation that a nephew of the president was involved in the case, but the prosecution decided he was clear of suspicion.

The presidential secretary for petition is considered an influential post that doubles as a "manager of ethics" at Cheong Wa Dae. Among 83 senior government officials in the Office of Chief of Staff, only 14 hold the highest rank of "Ga," and the presidential secretary for petition is one of them. Last Friday, President Roh Moo-hyun appointed as presidential secretary for petition Oh Min-soo, the former presidential secretary for event and planning who was suspected to have hidden the drunk driving case of the president`s in-law. It seems that for the president, charity begins at home when it comes to irregularities regarding his relatives and to his aides taking care of those cases.

Kwon Sun-taek, Editorial writer, maypole@donga.com