December 17, 2007 11:07
Grand National Party presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak accepted Sunday night a United New Democratic Party-backed bill seeking to appoint a special counsel to reinvestigate the BBK scandal. Lee’s decision came after a video clip cast doubt on prosecutors’ decision to clear him of all charges surrounding the dubious investment firm. The video clip shows Lee saying in 2000 that it was he who set up the investment firm early that year. He told a press conference on Sunday night, “On my way back from a TV debate on Sunday, I passed the National Assembly,” where the UNDP and the GNP clashed over the independent counsel bill. It “was literally in chaos. It looked as if it was on the verge of battle. I thought the disorder was a clear example of negative election campaigning.” Lee appears confident an independent probe will prove his innocence, as suspicions refuse to go away three days short of the election.
The UNDP-backed special prosecutor bill targets all suspicions about Lee from the BBK stock fraud scandal itself to prosecutors’ alleged violation of the human rights of his former business partner Kim Kyung-joon, the indicted key figure in the scam. The bill also aims to deal with allegations of Lee’s proxy ownership of land in southern Seoul. If the bill passes, Lee will have to undergo an investigation even if he is elected. Controversy over the results will continue until the general elections in April.
It is wrong to use a special counsel as a means to attack an opposition presidential candidate: the mechanism is originally aimed at looking into corruption by a government. Still, tasking a special counsel with investigating the scandal may realistically be the best solution since about half of the people doubt the results of the earlier investigation and the video clip does raise questions about Lee’s innocence. There had been fears of what could happen if the UNDP puts the bill to a vote on Monday. Lee’s acceptance of the independent probe will go a long way toward removing political uncertainties.
We believe prosecutors already investigated the case thoroughly. The problem is that they did not investigate the GNP candidate’s past claims of ownership or the business cards that make him out to be the founder and president of BBK. Prosecutors said they didn’t feel the need to investigate “trifles”, as an investigation of the money trail and the authenticity of a purported under-the-table contract confirmed Lee’s innocence. But a special counsel would not be necessary if prosecutors had looked into the points.
The video clip remains a hot potato. This is not the first revelation of such remarks by Lee, but the public will be more stuck when they hear it in his own voice. Prosecutors said the video clip will not overthrow their findings: the independent investigation will show where that confidence comes from.
But the question is why Lee did keep saying in October 2000 and afterwards that he founded BBK. Senior prosecutor Kim Hong-il, who oversaw the public investigation, said Lee delivered the lecture when he was about to launch an Internet-based financial business in connection with BBK while being involved in another joint business with Kim. Lee had received clearance from financial authorities for the new business four days before the lecture and was promoting it in media interviews and the lecture, the senior prosecutor explained. In other words, Lee said he himself established BBK and other companies to show off his business acumen.
Yet Lee has never admitted that he was duped by Kim. He simply explained that his remarks in past media interviews were part of promotional activities and he did not understand the new business well. The GNP even denounced the media interviews as false. Lee has yet to explain the new video, merely saying on Sunday the issue should be handled “in accordance with the law.”
Perhaps, as a prominent former business figure and CEO of a large construction company, he is embarrassed that he fell for a swindler. The case has grown complicated, as Lee has tried to cover up the fact that he was deceived. He should take responsibility. It is for the public to decide whether he is the wrong man for the presidency because he was duped. Lee should admit any mistakes and pave the way for the political confusion to be resolved in a reasonable way.
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