South Korea slush-fund scandal hits president

The political uproar in South Korea opened a rift in the ruling party yesterday after the former president, Roh Tae Woo, was formally indicted for corruption, along with leaders of the country's biggest companies.

Twenty days after his arrest, prosecutors charged Mr Roh with accepting bribes worth $355m (pounds 232m) during his five-year term, which ended in 1993. The scale of the alleged corruption is staggering. Thirty-five businessmen are said by the prosecutors to have paid the former president individual sums of up to $32m for government contracts. These he held in a secret slush fund, scattered through bank accounts held in false names, which he allegedly used to give political favours.

Mr Roh has admitted to concealing $650m, which he claims was amassed through legitimate political donations. Investigators say he has refused to answer many of their questions and may be hiding far larger sums.

Several Roh aides were also charged, along with seven businessmen accused of giving the bribes, including the chairmen of the Samsung, Daewoo and Dong Ah conglomerates. Only Mr Roh was held in custody, however; the markets took this as a sign that the businessmen would be treated leniently, and stock prices rose slightly.

But the arrests provoked stirrings of discontent with the current President, Kim Young Sam, as the chairman of his ruling Democratic Liberal Party (DLP) tendered his resignation - the first clear sign of Mr Kim's political security being endangered by the investigations.

The DLP chairman, Kim Yoon Hwan, was a close aide of both Mr Roh and his predecessor, Chun Doo Hwan, who was arrested on Sunday on separate charges. The party chairman withdrew his resignation after a meeting with the President, but the rumour in Seoul was that several members of his faction would soon resign. That would leave President Kim in a precarious position in the run-up to parliamentary elections next spring. The likeliest outcome seems to be a drastic realignment of Korean politics, with the opposition filling the gulf left by the defectors.

But it is a risky strategy for the President, who is thought by many to have let events run out of control, goaded by allegations that he too benefited from Mr Roh's slush fund. What began a month ago as a corruption scandal has become an attack on an entire generation of South Korean leaders.

With the filing of yesterday's charges, attention will now focus on the much more serious treason case facing Chun Doo Hwan. Three days ago he was arrested for questioning about his leadership of a military coup in 1979. As generals, Mr Chun and Mr Roh are widely believed to have ordered the massacre of more than 200 pro-democracy demonstrators in the city of Kwangju in 1980, still a profound wound in the divided country.

Mr Roh is also being questioned about the massacre, and yesterday five other retired generals, lesser participants in the coup, were banned from travelling overseas. In a country which achieved democracy only two years ago, after 32 years of military rule, these are bold and disquieting moves.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions