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[Op-Ed] Legacy of the Late Pres. Roh Moo-hyun

Posted December. 02, 2009 07:52,   


"(If I become first lady), I expect the people will expect the most the need for monitoring wrongdoings by the president’s relatives. I’ll try to help the president be mentally stable and take care of his health." These are excerpts from a Dec. 2002 Dong-A Ilbo article based on an interview with Kwon Yang-sook, the widow of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, just ahead of the presidential election that year. In the interview, I asked Kwon, who said she began playing golf in 1995, “Isn’t golf a sport not for the working class?” She articulately responded, “Lawyers are not working-class people, and we simply try to represent the working class. My apartment is about 200 square meters, and I don’t think only a working-class person can represent the working class.”

I recall this memory because of an inheritance tax filing that Roh’s bereaved family submitted to the National Tax Service last week. According to the filing, Roh left an estate worth 1.3 billion won (1.1 million U.S. dollars), including a mansion at the village of Bongha in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, and remaining debts of 1.6 billion won (1.4 million dollars), including loans he took out to have the residence built. The tax office construes the filing as meaning Roh’s debts were bigger than his assets, and that his family owes no inheritance tax unless another problem arises. The inheritance is not the issue, however. “If Ms. Kwon is taking on the burden of such huge debts for the big mansion all alone, it looks to be a problem to anyone’s eyes,” Rep. Joo Sung-young of the ruling Grand National Party said in a news release.

Half a year ago, prosecutors said Kwon was suspected of receiving one million dollars, her daughter 400,000 dollars, and her son and nephew-in-law five million dollars from Park Yeon-cha, chairman of Taekwang Industries and Roh’s financial supporter. Joo said, “If the family bought a house, the house will remain, and if they kept the money in cash, cash will exist,” expressing concern. “If no one inherited the money from the late president, who has the money now,” he said. Kwon and her two children received dirty money instead of closely monitoring her relatives, and as a result, she failed to take care of her husband.

If they were indicted and convicted for bribery, the money could have been forfeited or seized. The investigation into the case, however, ended under the pretext of “lack of the right to indict” due to Roh’s suicide. The money in question is no longer being mentioned. When calculated at an exchange rate of 1,200 won to the dollar, more than 6.4 million dollars should have been inherited, an amount not included on the list of Roh’s assets filed through consultations with lawyers and accountants. Other legacies of the late president include Sejong City, the recovery of wartime operational command from the U.S., and the “labeling as traitors of the Republic of Korea’s founders and patriots during the Korean War” by the leftist Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaboration for Japanese Imperialism.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)