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No imperial presidencies

Aug 30,2019
The Supreme Court has overturned a lower court’s dismissal of key bribery convictions in the corruption scandal that led to the impeachment and removal of former President Park Geun-hye from power. With the ruling on Thursday, legal disputes over the explosive case came to an end. The trial has continued for 28 months since Park’s indictment. Now, we must not repeat the tragic history of a former president being punished for crimes in the future.

In a collective ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial of the case — involving Park, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong and Park’s close confidante Choi Soon-sil — by the Seoul High Court after finding that the lower court’s interpretation of what constituted bribery in Lee’s appeals trial was too narrow. The top court took the decision because the lower court did not separate Park’ s bribery charges from other charges involving the other two in its ruling. The crux of the issue was whether three horses worth 3.4 billion won ($2.8 million) Samsung provided to Choi’s daughter for training and the 1.6 billion won the company offered to a youth winter sports center owned by Choi constituted a bribe or not.

The Supreme Court regarded the relationship between former President Park and her close friend Choi as a “common economic community” and saw the money Choi received from Samsung as an “act of bribery.” The top court said that the de facto owner of the three horses was Choi. As for the money provided for a youth sports center, the court recognized that as a quid pro quo between Park and a third party, referring to Choi, based on how Park played a part in recommending Samsung pay the money for the establishment of a sports center. The court underscored that it could not help judging the case from a position of common sense — from the standpoint of ordinary citizens, in other words.

The Supreme Court’s adherence to stricter ethical standard for corruptions involving abuse of power should not be restricted to the late and unlamented Park Geun-hye administration. The ruling should signify that any type of corruption among government officials and lawmakers will be punished criminally down the road given our political reality in which the power is centered on the president and his or her aides.

The court’s ruling is a warning for not only former presidents but also the powers that be — and those that will be. We must fix our political system so as not to allow such an imperial presidency in the future.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 30, page 30