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Police Arrest Second Son of South Korean President - 2002-06-21


Police have arrested a second son of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung on corruption charges. But the news is taking a backseat for the moment to the nation's obsession with the World Cup football finals.

Former executive Kim Hong-up is the second of the president's three sons to be arrested in the past six weeks on influence-peddling charges. South Korean prosecutors say they think Mr. Kim received more than $1.5 million from several companies in return for favorable treatment from the government.

Mr. Kim's younger brother, Kim Hong-gul, was arrested May 18, accused of accepting nearly $3 million in bribes. He is now awaiting trial.

The scandals involving his sons, as well as close associates, have deeply embarrassed President Kim Dae-jung, who promised to clean up government corruption when he was elected in 1997.

The president, who is constitutionally barred from running for a second term, has not been implicated in any scandal, and has repeatedly apologized to the nation.

But political analyst Chung Ok-nim, in Seoul, said the allegations against the president's family and friends are turning voters against the ruling party and toward the main opposition candidate, Lee Hoi-chang, ahead of the December 19 presidential election.

"His support is going up and up, according to the poll survey. But, still, it is too early to say that he will become the new president of South Korea," Mr. Chung said.

Scott Snyder, a researcher at an Asian think tank in Seoul, believes the timing of the latest arrest could not have been better for the ruling party.

Mr. Snyder said the entire nation is too distracted by South Korea's success in this year's World Cup football tournament right now to pay much attention to the scandals. Co-host South Korea will play Spain Saturday in a crucial match, which could see the national team advance to the semi-finals.

"That's probably the silver lining for the ruling party. The vast majority of the public here in South Korea is focused on soccer. The question is what happens when they return to the 'bad news,' the political issues looming in the horizon," Mr. Snyder said.

President Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago for his efforts to promote reconciliation with communist North Korea. But the scandals have badly tarnished his image in his last months in office.

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