Call That an Investigation?

      February 20, 2008 10:28

      President-elect Lee Myung-bak is said to have been interviewed by independent counsel Chung Ho-young’s team at the sumptuous Korean restaurant Samcheonggak on Sunday. Lee was accompanied by two lawyers and sat across a table from three independent counselors and one investigator after they supped on beef soup with rice at 7 p.m.

      Samcheonggak, which used to be a high-class gisaeng house, was acquired by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in 2000 and has been renovated to include a performance hall, banquet center, restaurant and wine bar. The establishment has become much more accessible, but it still exudes a high-class air. Holding the investigation in such a location over dinner probably did not leave an image of probity uppermost in the minds of the public regarding the investigation.

      The president elect and the independent counsel’s team are said to have stayed at Samcheonggak for just over two hours. It will have taken them about 30 minutes to finish their meal, so the actual questioning probably lasted about an hour and a half. Staff at the restaurant said they had no idea Lee was being questioned and thought he had just come to dinner. That shows just how easygoing the questioning must have been. Even the spokesman for the president elect’s Transition Committee said the meeting could not be described exactly as a “questioning” but rather a process of confirming the contents of previous written replies by Lee to questions from the independent counsel. There is no way of avoiding suspicions that the meeting was just a formality to leave a record that the independent counsel had directly questioned Lee.

      The independent counsel’s team said Samcheonggak was chosen at the last minute because the original venue for the investigation, a hotel in downtown Seoul, had been leaked to the press, while the questioning was due to start at 5 p.m. The rescheduling led to the investigation taking place at dinner time, and each side paid for their own meals.

      In 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush was investigated at the Oval Office by an independent counsel regarding suspicions that the government deliberately disclosed the identity of a CIA agent. If Lee had been investigated in his office, the public would have acknowledged the fact that laws and principles were respected. And that venue could have been a better choice in terms of security as well.

      When the investigators returned to the independent counsel’s office, they were reportedly greeted by loud applause. What point is there in waiting for the results of the investigation when the independent counsel’s team, charged with remaining objective and free from pressure, act in such a manner?
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