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[Op-Ed] The Money Flow of Roh’s Camp

Posted February. 18, 2009 09:00,   


Money is essential to politicians and political parties to carry out political activities. Hence, political funds are called the cost of democracy. The hundreds of billions of won that former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo amassed, however, were illegal accumulations of wealth hoarded on the pretext of political funds. Companies were extorted by high-profile politicians and parties in every election. Such a practice in Korea is commonly called “insurance,” and if companies are unlucky, they could be accused of politico-business collusion and even end up collapsing.

Alleged campaign fund irregularities for presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun in the 2002 presidential election have yet to be cleared. When prosecutors began a full-fledged investigation in 2003, then President Roh confidently said, “If my camp used more than one tenth of what the Grand National Party spent, I will resign as president.” In announcing the interim results of the probe, prosecutors said the party spent 82.3 billion won (68.8 million U.S. dollars) and Roh’s camp 11.3 billion won (9.4 million dollars). Roh’s figure was 13.7 percent of the party’s amount. On this, then Prosecutor-General Song Kwang-soo said in a lecture after his retirement, “When prosecutors found 20 to 30 percent of the Roh camp`s total funds, Roh’s aides said prosecutors have become audacious without fear of the government’s power,” rekindling suspicion.

If Song told the truth, Roh’s camp might have spent more than 20 billion won (16.6 million dollars). Rumors circulated that the Roh camp used campaign funds worth 8.3 billion won (6.9 million dollars) just before the announcement of the interim investigation results. Prosecutors increased the amount three billion won (2.5 million dollars) to dispel suspicion that they artificially adjusted the amount to one tenth of the party’s funds. The whereabouts of Samsung’s unsigned bonds worth 80 billion won (66 million dollars) have yet to be discovered as well. Prosecutors said 32.4 billion won (27 million dollars) of the funds were transferred to the party and 2.1 billion won (1.7 million dollars) to the Roh camp, but the remainder has yet to be found. Roh assumed no criminal responsibility for this. Prosecutors are suspected of covering up the case.

This year, Ahn Hee-jung, a member of the main opposition Democratic Party’s supreme council who is known to have handled Roh’s campaign funds, is mired again in a criminal investigation. He previously served a year in prison and was fined 490 million won (515,000 dollars) after being convicted in 2005 of illegally raising campaign funds for Roh. At his trial, Ahn said, “I thought I was allowed to accept political funds if the purpose was to establish democracy.” This time, Ahn is suspected of taking hundreds of millions of won from Kang Geum-won, Kang Geum-won, chairman of Changshin Textile and a major financial supporter of Roh, through borrowed bank accounts. So what excuse they will use when interrogated by prosecutors?

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)