BBK video sparks renewed debate on Lee Myung-bak’s morality

Posted on : 2007-12-17 10:39 KST Modified on : 2007-12-17 10:39 KST
True or not, new evidence is unlikely to change outcome of election

A video clip in which presidential front-runner Lee Myung-bak says that he created the investment firm BBK, which has been the focus of a case of financial fraud, was released on December 16 and will likely effect the election to be held on December 19. With the reappearance of the controversy, the general public’s distrust of an announcement by the prosecution that Lee was not involved in stock manipulation at BBK is expected to be widespread. Lee has so far claimed that the news report which showed the video clip and alleged that he established BBK is false, and he is likely to face strong public criticism which could undermine his presidential bid.

In the video clip, Lee said, “I established the Internet financial company BBK.” The video clip showed a connection between Lee and BBK more directly and more concretely than any other evidence presented so far, including interviews with media outlets, a business card emblazoned with the BBK logo and his name or brochures from a related company. As a result, its impact on public opinion will inevitably be significant.

The prosecution has tried to ignore the video clip, saying that there is nothing new in it, but public demand for a re-investigation of the BBK case is expected to increase. It is highly possible that the National Assembly will pass a bill, submitted by the pro-government United New Democratic Party last week, which would allow for the appointment of an independent counsel.

In a sharp departure from his previous position, Lee said at midnight on December 16 that he would accept the independent counsel bill. However, his new position was conditioned upon having the ruling UNDP and the main opposition GNP discuss the content of the bill from the beginning in order to come up with a compromise. In response, the UNDP criticized Lee’s move as political maneuvering to buy time.

Meanwhile, Lee has claimed that interviews which he had in 2000 with Seoul-based media outlets, including the JoongAng Ilbo, the Monthly JoongAng and the Ilyo Shinmun, in which he said that he established BBK, are false.

However, the video clip, if proven to be authentic, affirms the veracity of the news reports. Therefore, if he was not lying in the lecture shown in the video clip, he was lying when he claimed that the news reports were false. Apart from the legal controversy surrounding who the real owner of BBK is, Lee’s morality will be damaged again.

Allegations that Lee was involved with the now-bankrupt investment firm resurfaced with the extradition last month of Lee’s former business partner, Kim Kyung-jun. Kim and Lee founded the asset management firm LK e-Bank in 2000, following the establishment of BBK in 1999. Kim has asserted that Lee is the de facto owner of BBK, though Kim is the owner on paper. A storm of fresh allegations were incited when his mother hand-delivered four contracts to the prosecution which he said would prove Lee’s ownership of the firm.

The prosecution, following a month-long investigation into the allegations against the two men, declared that the contracts were forgeries and Lee was cleared of all of the charges against him. Kim, meanwhile, was indicted on charges of stock manipulation, embezzlement and forgery.

The prosecution’s investigation, however, has fueled public suspicions that prosecutors may have colluded with Lee in order to boost his chances in the upcoming election, because it generated some answered questions. The biggest of these is who the owner of the auto parts manufacturing company DAS is. DAS was one of BBK’s major investors and on paper is co-owned by Lee Myung-bak’s brother and brother-in-law. Lee has been suspected of owning this company as well, though he has consistently denied this.

The political arena is once again up in arms following the video clip’s release. The United New Democratic Party and independent Lee Hoi-chang’s camp have announced their intention to form a temporary alliance. The Democratic Labor Party, the Democratic Party and the Create Korea Party all agree on the idea of appointing an independent counsel and have started to attack the former Seoul mayor.

Lawmakers aligned with the campaign of former GNP chair Park Geun-hye seem to have their own concerns about how to respond to this problem. Though Park contended with Lee for the GNP nomination, but lost in what was a close and bitter race, she agreed to give him her support and has been campaigning for him ever since.

The video is anticipated to have a considerable effect on the presidential election because it is being rapidly circulated on the Internet. UNDP lawmakers have facilitated this to a certain extent when they visited broadcasting companies after the video was discovered and urged them to air it.

The dominant opinion, however, is that the video will not change the general trend in the election. The ratings gap of the major candidates - Lee Myung-bak, Chung Dong-young, and Lee Hoi-chang - is too large and there are only two days left before the election.

It is anyone’s guess what kind of impact the video clip will have on the December 19 presidential election. An official of the UNDP, who declined to be named, said he thought the video clip would not have a significant effect on the outcome of the election. However, supporters of the UNDP and Lee Hoi-chang are likely to gain some momentum in the final push before the election on Wednesday.

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