South Korea: President's Brother Questioned in Corruption Probe

Following bribery allegations, the South Korean President's brother Lee Sang-deuk was questioned by authorities in a bank graft probe. Almost immediately, South Koreans took their speculation online, with some strongly suggesting that the President himself could be deeply involved in the corruption cases, alluding that his brother might be a scapegoat in a wider scandal.

On 3 July, 2012, the South Korean Prosecutor's Office summoned Lee Sang-deuk, the elder brother of current President Lee Myung-bak, to investigate allegations that Lee received about 700 million Korean Won (USD 605,800) in kickbacks from two bankers to help their troubled banks stay afloat and to use his political influence to curb any investigations into their entities.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak waving at his inauguration. Image by Flickr user hojusaram, (CC BY SA 2.0)

Many questioned where the chain of corruption conveniently ends: at Lee himself, who already faces several charges against him, including receiving illegal political funds from major corporations since his bother's inauguration. As soon as the news broke, many net users started calling him the ‘Tail,’ playing off the the fact that a lizard can cut its own tail to escape, when in danger or under threat, but the lizard itself remains intact, ready to grow a new tail. [note: South Koreans often use the word ‘the Body’ to describe the powers that actual control things behind the scene, as opposed to the ‘Tail’ which can be abandoned and sacrificed to protect the main body.]

Twitter user @pjmin1220 wrote [ko]:

이상득 검찰출두. 꼬리자르기 시작 되었다. 뭘 하더라도 국민은 알고 있다 그대들의 꼼수를.

Lee Sang-deuk was summoned to the Prosecutor's Office, marking the start of the tail-cutting. No matter what you guys do, people already know about your tactics and schemes.

@jazzsonp piled on [ko] by tweeting:

비리가 발각되면, 바로 꼬리자르고, ‘전비서관’ , ‘전의원’, ‘전당원’ 이라고 호칭하는 새누리당/청와대에서, 이상득 ‘전의원'을 이명박의 ‘전형’ 이라고 습관적으로 부를 수도.

When their corruption is revealed, the Saenuri Party and the presidential house will  immediately cut their tails off and begin calling the tails with new names such as a ‘former-Secretary’, ‘former law maker’ and ‘ex-party member.’ Pretty soon, they will habitually call former-lawmaker Lee Sang-deuk as Lee Myung-bak's ‘former-brother’.

Lee further set off a firestorm of rage with his denial and unrepentant attitude. @sidagaso mocked [ko] Lee Sang-Deuk's remarks on the bribe:

이상득 “부정한 돈은 받지 않았다.” 돈은 원래 깨끗한 거야 돈이 무슨 죄가 있어 너같은 넘이 받으니까 부정해지는 거야

Lee Sang -Deuk said “I have not received any ‘dirty money’.” Money itself is clean. Money has done nothing wrong. Because guys like you exist, the money gets dirty.

@duo280 tweeted [ko]:

안 들키면 무조건 부인, 들키면 그냥 주는 돈만 받았다(대가성 없다)고 오리발[…]

When he wasn't caught, he simply denied (the allegation). After being caught, he claims he merely received money without promising any favors and acts in return, as if he knew nothing about it.

@gnedrop added sarcastically [ko]:

이명박씨의 형 이상득씨는 저축은행으로부터 몇억을 “댓가없이” 받았답니다. 언제부터 저축은행이 노인복지 사업을 겸했나요? 대단해요. 몇 억씩 뿌리고. 이런 복지국가라면 정말 빨리 노인이 되고 싶네요.

Lee Myung-bak's elder brother Lee Sang-deuk claimed that he received several hundred million Korean Won from savings banks without any promise of a return in favor. Since when are [our] savings banks so into the social welfare of the elderly? [note: the elderly refers to Lee's brother who is 76 years old.] It is truly amazing. They spent several million won on this social welfare business. If we are living in a nation with such a good social welfare system -like this one- I cannot wait to get older.

Twitter user @hyimang lashed out[ko] at the Lee family's immorality:

이상득과 그의 패밀리들은 안하무인의 독선과,후안무치의 파렴치와,혹세무민의 착취와,견강부회의 위선을 극명하게 보여준다.우리들이 버려야 할 악덕들을 패키지로 보유하고 있다.”그게 어때서?”로 요약되는 그들의 태생적 도덕 불감증은 치유불능이다.

[This case exhibits] Lee Sang-Deuk and his family's unscrupulous arrogance, self-righteousness and shamelessness, their exploitation and manipulation and flip-flopping and hypocrisy — a package of all the evils our society has to get rid of. And their reaction [to these series of allegations] can be summarized in this one sentence: ‘So what?’ Their moral hazard is inherent and incurable.

Many suspected Lee Sang-deuk's allegations would be directly linked to his brother, the President, and went further suggesting that Lee is just a political scapegoat to cover up bigger allegations. @kjoseph_jun called out [ko] for wider investigation:

이상득 수사는 이상득 개인으로 그칠 일이 아니라, 이명박 정권의 비리 부패 부정 전반에 대한 심판으로 이어져야 한다. 권력을 잡은 것이 아니라 이권을 잡은 자들에 대한 철저한 응징이 요구된다.

Investigation on Lee Sang-Deuk should not be restricted at an individual level, but should continue to function as a judgement on the Lee administration's allegation and corruption packages. We need to punish those people not for grabbing power, but for wielding their power to exercise the right to various privileges.

On South Korea's biggest political forum, Daum Agora, a web page [ko] was launched to start a discussion about this allegation, where  net user ROKA wrote:

오래전 아고라에 어떤분이 올린 글이 생각나내 임기내에 형이 다 뒤집어쓰고 들어갈거라고… 점쟁이도 아니고 참 대단해.

I remember reading a post by someone in Daum Agora quite long ago. The post predicted the elder brother will take all the blame and be imprisoned during Lee's presidency. That guy beats a fortune-teller.

Net users also urged the Prosecutor's Office to delve deeper and more thoroughly. Another net user ANDY wrote on the same page:

땅에 떨어진 검찰 위상 이번 기회에 조금이라도 만회하길 바랍니다. 또 어떤 궤변이 나올지 궁금하기도 하지만…

I really hope the Prosecutor's office whose reputation has been smeared, grab this chance to recover their old glory. Also, another part of me is expecting to hear convoluted rhetoric from them.

Twitter user @21gree raised suspicions [ko] with some evidence:

이상득이 저축은행 회장들에게 돈받은 시점이 2007년 대선 때이고 중간소개자들도 캠프 핵심인물이었던 정두언과 김덕룡이라는데도 검찰은 ‘현금 사용처를 밝히기 어렵다'며 MB 대선자금 수사는 피한다고 한다. 하기야 검숭이[검사들]에게 뭘 기대하랴.

It was in 2007, during the presidential campaign period that Lee Sang-deuk received the money from the chairmen of the savings banks. And the middle-men involved in this act are Jeong Doo-un and Kim Duck-yong who were both main members of Lee's political campaign team. But still the Prosecutor's Office refuses to investigate the President's campaign fund, saying that ‘it is hard to track where the cash was spent’. Yeah. We really cannot expect much from those prosecutors.

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