[Editorial] Grave nature of Lee Myung-bak’s crimes merited his arrest

Posted on : 2018-03-23 18:57 KST Modified on : 2018-03-23 18:57 KST
Former president Lee Myung-bak leaves his house in the Nonhyeon neighborhood of Seoul to head to the Seoul Eastern District Detention Center following the issuance of his arrest warrant on Mar. 23. (by Baek So-ah
Former president Lee Myung-bak leaves his house in the Nonhyeon neighborhood of Seoul to head to the Seoul Eastern District Detention Center following the issuance of his arrest warrant on Mar. 23. (by Baek So-ah

Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has finally been arrested. This was the inevitable outcome – the charges listed on the request for an arrest warrant were so grave that the failure to arrest someone like Lee would raise the question of whether anyone could be arrested. There were some calls for Lee to be shown leniency out of respect for his status as a former president, but it is hard to sympathize with this position after seeing the crimes in the warrant.

Lee’s conduct shows that he behaved less like a public figure and more like a businessman consumed by personal greed. During his time as president, he mobilized government officials to manage his assets under borrowed names without the slightest sign of guilt. After deceiving the Korean people for more than twenty years, Lee maintained his charade until the very end by dismissing evidence as being “fabricated” and testimony as being “falsified.” Along with the arrest, if Lee is punished to the full extent allowed under the law, it will probably be less than he deserves.

This time around, the prosecutors have provided ample grounds to show that automobile parts manufacturer DAS belongs to Lee. Lee provided the capital to establish the company in 1987 and filled key positions at the company with his own cronies. He chose Kim Seong-woo, a subordinate from his time as CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction, to be the CEO of DAS and at various times appointed the husband of his younger sister, his son, and his nephew to important roles at the company.

Lee was also regularly briefed about the status of operations there. He arranged a meeting with Kim in which Lee taught Kim how to use false tax invoices to create a slush fund, and then Lee designated his wife’s brother as the delivery man for that money. In fact, Lee used this slush fund in various election campaigns and added campaign staff to the DAS rolls and even paid them a salary. Lee’s family used a company credit card, though Chairman Lee Sang-eun was never issued one, and a report (called the “Post-Presidential Plan”) has come to light that outlines a plan to transfer control of the company to Lee’s son after Lee left office. It’s time for Lee to stop feigning innocence.

While Lee was lying to the outside world about DAS belonging to his older brother, he was ordering Blue House officials to handle DAS’s litigation and manage its assets. He appointed the official in charge of his American litigation as the consul general for Los Angeles, with support provided by a government administrator who was qualified to practice law in the US. Lee’s audacity was jaw-dropping: he had government officials on assignment from the National Tax Service look into ways to get out of inheritance taxes.

After forcing Samsung to cover his company’s legal fees, he instructed his lawyers to “collect the interest [on his original investment in the company] also,” and shortly before leaving office, he ordered them to “bring back the remaining money” paid by Samsung. It’s hard to read through the warrant without blushing.

But it wasn’t just DAS. Lee’s older brother, wife, son-in-law – the entire family, in fact – were put to work raking in massive bribes for government appointments, party nominations and construction bids not only around the presidential election but also during Lee’s time in office. Since most of the favors requested were carried out, the quid-pro-quo relationship seems clear.

A substantial number of the documents that the authorities seized from the Yeongpo Building in the Samcheong neighborhood of Seoul are reports detailing illegal surveillance and physical evidence of political operations and influence peddling. The prosecutors believe these documents were deliberately withheld from the documents handed over to the presidential archive out of concerns about criminal prosecution. This is evidence not only of a violation of the Presidential Records Management Act but also of the constitution itself. A thorough investigation is necessary to get to the bottom of this.

Since Lee basically resorted to political tactics by refusing to appear before the court during its warrant review hearing, the only option that remains is showing him the severity of the law. Forgiving great evil weakens the foundations of the rule of law.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Most viewed articles