The (possible) downfall of Han Myeong-sook

It seems that there’s only thing the media in South Korea is interested in right now; a story of a former Prime Minister, corrupt businessmen, accusations of receiving bribes in a foreign currency, and a legion of supporters – from the PM’s party to major religious orders – who claim the charge is being trumped up for political reasons. It’s not conceivable that Koreans have just now heard about Bertie, and are so shocked it’s become the most important news-story in the country. This is the case of Han Myeong-sook, who was this weekend arrested on charges of receiving bribes.

Han Myeong-sook was Prime Minister from April 2006 to March 2007. She resigned to embark on an aborted campaign (she was disqualified) for president. She is a quite interesting character in Korean politics, as this is not her first run-in with the law. She was imprisoned for two years in 1979, the then being teaching communism to peasants. Though most now agree the real reason for her imprisonment was her pro-democracy activities. The government exonerated her in 2001 and the then President appointed her Prime Minister fives years later (In South Korea, the role of Prime Minister is akin to the Vice-President in the USA).

The source of her current woes is the businessman Kwan Young-wook. It seems he was lobbying for a top job at the state-run Korea Coal Corp, and when he was arrested last week for corruption charges he to have given Han 50,000 in US dollars.

The story was first reported in a local newspaper, and Han responded by not responding. She refused to cooperate in way whatsoever, claiming through a spokesman: “Prosecutors leaked groundless facts based on Kwak’s confession, without providing any evidence to support the credibility of his remarks,” and thus summons to appear and answer questions. This, apparently is what irked the prosecutor, and an arrest warrant was issued. Han complied and surrendered to the arrest. However, she’s still not cooperating. “No matter how many times one asks me, my answer is no, I have done nothing to be ashamed of,” She said shortly before being taken to the prosecutor’s office on Friday.

Whether or not the arrest was politically motivated, there are some who appear utterly convinced of this. Another former Prime Minister, Lee Hae-chan, claimed before the arrest warrant was issued: “An arrest warrant on Han is an arrest warrant on democracy itself.” Such is the anger felt over this that a monk tried to attack one of the prosecutors with a razor on Friday.