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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 10)

All Headlines 07:16 April 10, 2018

Shame on ex-presidents
: It is high time to ensure check and balances

Lee Myung-bak has become the country's fourth former president to be indicted on criminal charges for what he did during his presidency. His indictment follows his successor Park Geun-hye being sentenced to 24 years in prison and fined 18 billion won (US$16.8 million) after being found guilty of corruption and abuse of power Friday

It is a pity to see the two former heads of state spending time at detention centers at the same time. What a tragedy it is! Such a case has continued to take place since former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo were indited for corruption, treason and other wrongdoings 22 years ago. It is a shame our top leaders have repeatedly abused their power, took bribes and raised slush funds.

We are proud Korea is the only country in the world to achieve both rapid economic development and democratization simultaneously in the 20th century. But it is humiliating to see the recurrence of former presidents being arrested, indicted, tried and convicted for graft and other misdeeds.

Critics have often cynically called the country the Republic of Corruption. Despite Korea's economic success and democratic progress, we have to admit the country has been a sort of plutocracy or kleptocracy. Without rooting out rampant corruption the country can never become a real democracy.

When the ferry Sewol sank in April 2014, resulting in the deaths of over 300 passengers, mostly high school students, then-President Park ascribed the tragedy to widespread corruption. She declared a war on "accumulated evils" to break corrupt ties among bureaucrats, politicians, bankers and businessmen.

Ironically, Park has become the very target of the anti-corruption campaign. She was impeached and ousted from power last March over a corruption scandal involving her confidant Choi Soon-sil following massive candlelit rallies. Last week, a Seoul district court found her guilty of bribery, abuse of power and coercion.

Her predecessor Lee is suspected of taking about 11.1 billion won ($10.4 million) in bribes. The sum includes 700 million won from the state intelligence service and $5.8 million in lawsuit expenses paid by Samsung Electronics on behalf of car parts maker DAS, which Lee is suspected of owning. Lee is also accused of embezzling about 35 billion won from DAS. The prosecution concluded Lee is the de facto owner of the company.

We hope Lee is the last former president to be arrested and indicted on criminal charges. He had better lay bare all the truth behind his alleged wrongdoings, without resorting to denial tactics or calling the probe political revenge. This is what he should do to keep his dignity as ex-head of state.

Now, the country should speed up a constitutional revision to prevent the presidential monopoly on power _ a breeding ground for corruption. It is also urgent to firmly establish the rule of law and democratic checks and balances to rid corruption from politics and our society. Otherwise, we have no future.

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