Wednesday, July 17, 2013

CHUN Doo-hwan for the record

The other day, my dictator neighbor received a visit from prosecutors who, beyond his Yeonhui-dong house, raided several homes and companies belonging to his relatives. CHUN Doo-hwan was said to be relaxed and polite while they searched his house. For show, he did leave them a little bit more petty cash than usual for their pain (provided they can link him to the over two hundred artworks collected, including some from famous painters such as Park Soo-keun), but nothing close to the KRW 167.5 bn he still owes to the nation.

I'm surprised to learn that prosecutors were surprised to find his safe empty*:
  • Arguably Korea's most hated politician (NB: no small feat, particularly across the aisle these days), CHUN had probably been tipped off thanks to his pervasive network. Judging by his impunity and the frequent visits of V.I.P.s to his place, the man still knows how to pull the strings - if not call the shots (no sick pun intended for the victims of the Gwangju Massacre).
  • But you don't need to be a crime genius to know something was coming: lawmakers had just voted an extension of the search for his illegal funds in time (until 2020), and in reach (to the relatives). Even if several members of CHUN's family are now under interdiction to leave the national territory, many suspect that significant slush funds have already traveled to friendlier destinations.

Among Monday tweets: "This time, media don't come to #Yeonhuidong to shoot a drama. Prosecutors raid my neighbor dictator #ChunDoohwan" ( / "Reminder: #ChunDoohwan got not only a "Get out of jail free" card, but his hands deep into the Community Chest" (
Anyway, Korea needs to recover more than the money still owed by its former strongman**, and even more than the undisclosed total of additional public or private assets rumored to have been offered to his friends.

Korea must recover its credibility as a democracy where justice is not only independent, but respected. Where being a top politician or a top businessman shouldn't mean being granted an unlimited supply of "get out of jail free cards".

I'm not a supporter of death penalty, and I'm glad CHUN's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. I also understand some of the reasons why KIM Yong-sam and KIM Dae-jung pardoned him, but still, putting him out of jail sent a very wrong message to the nation and to the world, and every episode of the saga that followed confirmed the nuisance**.  Now I hope that this time, the record is set right, and that all culprits pay, including in terms of prison time.

Now I guess I've made my point: I'm not exactly a fan of this convicted criminal.

But since CHUN Doo-hwan's record must be set straight, I'd like to mention a lesser known part of his legacy. He banned private tutoring and hagwon the way dictators do (the ugly way, leveraging on coercion and squealers), but towards the end of his rule, students could reach top universities on a merit basis unseen ever since.

I don't know if this can explain a boom in successful independent entrepreneurs one decade later. I don't know the backgrounds of people like the founders of Naver, NCSoft, or Daum (LEE Hae-jin, KIM Tae-jin, or LEE Jae-woong, respectively SNU, SNU, Yonsei U), and I know that anyway, the internet boom offered a unique opportunity for non-chaebol players to emerge in brand new arenas, just one click away from endusers.

But maybe, in his own wicked way, the dictator ironically*** helped rise to the top some of the university leaders who accelerated his fall. Who knows?

Seoul Village 2013
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* "Prosecutors Find Empty Safe in Ex-President's House" (Chosun Daily 20130718)
** see previous raids, or last year's episode of "Neighborhood watch"
*** irony: Chung used to be basically Park Geun-hye's bodyguard, and in charge of the security of the predecessor he removed from power

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