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Stopping the payoffs

Nov 20,2017
The prosecution is indicting former President Park Geun-hye’s aides Lee Jae-man and Ahn Bong-geun today on charges of receiving 4 billion won ($3.6 million) in bribes from the National Intelligence Service’s clandestine account for special activities. According to law enforcement agencies, the spy agency gave as much as 7 billion won to the Blue House and other officials in the Park administration. Following the arrests of former heads of the NIS — Nam Jae-joon and Lee Byung-kee — Lee Byung-ho also was summoned Sunday by the prosecution for further investigations.

The list appears to be endless. Former Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Choi Kyung-hwan, a core member of a group of politicians loyal to President Park, also faces charges of receiving 100 million won from the NIS. Five lawmakers from the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly also are rumored to have accepted millions of won each from the same account of the spy agency for two years from 2015.

The NIS’s budget for so-called special activities, which is exempt from the Board of Audit and Inspection’s regular audit, amounted to 493 billion won last year even when excluding additional expenses for the job. The money should have been used for counterterrorism activities at home and abroad to reinforce the security of the Korean people. But if the money was actually used for the president’s personal or political purposes, that constitutes a serious crime against the state. If the NIS really gave kickbacks to high government officials or lawmakers in return for favors in its budget, that’s nothing short of bribery.

This is not the first time such money flowed to the Blue House. Circumstantial evidence shows that the spy agency offered such bribes regularly even under the presidencies of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Such a bad practice should be stopped. The government must reform the NIS’s budget as soon as possible.

To address the problem, the government, for instance, can allow a handful of certified experts to monitor how the money was spent. The legislature’s Intelligence Committee can audit the spy agency’s expenditures behind closed doors. Such bills were already proposed by legislators from both sides of the aisle. If the presidential office and party leaders join forces, the darkness can be pierced.

President Moon Jae-in must vow to not accept the money no matter what. President Moon must take the lead in reforming the NIS to avoid its past mistakes.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 20, Page 34