Seoul Ex-President and 7 Businessmen Are Indicted in Bribery

The New York Times, December 6 1995

SEOUL, South Korea, Dec. 5— South Korean prosecutors today indicted former President Roh Tae Woo, who presided over a major part of the transition to democracy, on charges of accepting at least $370 million in bribes.

Seven of South Korea's most prominent business leaders were also indicted, on charges of paying bribes to Mr. Roh.

Today's action sets the stage for a public trial of Mr. Roh (pronounced no), perhaps as early as this month, on charges punishable by a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

"We could not but conclude that this was pure bribery related to his official position as President," Ahn Kang Min, the lead prosecutor, said at a news conference this afternoon.

Mr. Roh, who was arrested last month and is already in prison, has been disgraced along with his predecessor, Chun Doo Hwan, who was arrested on Sunday.

Both are expected to be indicted soon on other counts as well, for staging a coup in 1979 and for crushing a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju in 1980. Those charges are punishable by death, though almost no one expects the former Presidents to be executed.

The indicted business executives include the heads of huge conglomerates like the Daewoo Corporation and Samsung Group, some of the biggest corporations in Asia.

But none of the seven were jailed, and they will apparently be punished without being imprisoned. The Government was concerned that their arrest could harm the national economy. In addition, there is a broad feeling in South Korea that the executives did not take the initiative and are less culpable than the leaders who solicited the payments.

The scandal has been a national embarrassment, underscoring how corruption permeated South Korean politics, business and journalism.

"This scandal is a real shame," Choi Pyong Kil, a professor of public administration at Yonsei University, said today. "Whether young or old, rich or poor, all Koreans feel guilty."

Mr. Ahn, the prosecutor, said Mr. Roh had admitted under interrogation that he had used more than $180 million in his slush fund to support campaigns in parliamentary elections in 1988 and 1992. Mr. Ahn said the prosecutors planned to investigate exactly where this money went.

Such an investigation could lead to further political upheavals in South Korea, for there is widespread speculation that many senior politicians -- perhaps including President Kim Young Sam -- may have benefited as Mr. Roh parceled out the sums he is said to have collected in bribes.

Under interrogation, Mr. Roh has insisted that while he received donations from executives, the money was not bribes but gifts for "political operational funds." Mr. Ahn said the prosecutors rejected that argument because some of the money had been used for personal expenses and because Mr. Roh retained a great deal of it when he left office in 1993.

In addition, Mr. Ahn said Mr. Roh took money in exchange for using his powers to help or hurt companies.

In another indication of the political turmoil here, the chairman of the governing party, Kim Yoon Whan, offered to resign today, although the resignation was not accepted. He suggested that he did not agree with President Kim's recent decision to prosecute the former Presidents for their role in the 1979 coup and the 1980 Kwangju massacre.

Mr. Chun took power in the 1979 coup and was the autocratic President of South Korea from 1980 to 1988. Mr. Chun chose Mr. Roh, another former general, as his successor. But Mr. Roh submitted to a democratic election and won, serving as President from 1988 to 1993 in an era of expanding democracy.

Nicholas Kristoff


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