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[Op-Ed] Lee Sang-deuk’s Stress

Posted December. 13, 2008 03:05,   


Something interesting happened when President Lee Myung-bak was choosing presidential secretaries after his inauguration. Jang Dasaro, then chief of staff under former National Assembly Vice Speaker Lee Sang-deuk, President Lee’s elder brother, received a phone call from a journalist who said, “I heard you’ll be named presidential secretary for political affairs. Is this true?” Startled, Jang tried to find out if the rumor was true, and it was. But Lee Sang-deuk told Jang nothing. Jang later visited his boss’s home late at night and talked about his impending appointment. Then the vice speaker first asked, “Is that right?” and later said “OK. I got it (I already knew).” It is hard to understand why Lee Sang-deuk responded that way.

In an unofficial meeting, Jang, who was recently transferred to the secretariat for civil affairs, mentioned the anecdote and said, “Lee Sang-deuk is that kind of person. He’s never intervened in a president’s personnel management even when his own chief of staff is involved.”After being hired by the Democratic Progressive Party under the Chun Doo-hwan administration, Jang developed a better understanding of the opposite political side as vice spokesman of the conservative Grand National Party and aide to veteran statesman Lee Hoi-chang. “Lee (Sang-deuk) is different from the general powers that be,” Jang said. “This is partly because he worked as a CEO (for Kolon) for a long time in the private sector.”

Nevertheless, many people misunderstand the behavior of the president’s brother. One critic even said, “Every political issue should be approved by the president’s brother Lee Sang-deuk.” The media released Dec. 5 photos of Lee Sang-deuk reading a document titled “Analysis of National Policy Committee Members,” reigniting rumors. The documents could contain no confidential information and can be frequently found in Yeouido where the National Assembly is located. But according to the floor leader of the ruling Grand National Party, Hong Joon-pyo, Lee Sang-deuk’s reading of such a document could cause serious problems if the document is provided by someone “who leaks information to the president’s brother in exchange for benefits.”

In Tokyo Thursday, Lee Sang-deuk said, “I’m well known for the bad behavior of a president’s relatives and the problems of family-controlled businesses.” Since he has worked as a CEO and been elected six times as a lawmaker, he could be right. Even when he does not intervene in a president’s affairs, however, his behavior can still pose a problem. The rumor that “every political issue should be approved by the president’s brother Lee Sang-deuk” can stress the Korean people. Lee asked, “Did I commit a crime?” But his status as the president’s brother can be considered a crime in Korean society.

Editorial Writer Kim Chang-hyeok (chang@donga.com)