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S. Korea Opposition Leader Takes Responsibility for Campaign Scandal - 2003-12-15

The loser of last year's presidential election in South Korea made a dramatic confession on Monday. Lee Hoi-chang told reporters he is willing to go to prison to take responsibility for a campaign fundraising scandal.

Opposition leader Lee Hoi-chang was grilled by prosecutors Monday after turning himself in. Before going to the prosecutors, the conservative politician held a news conference to say he was taking full responsibility for his campaign staff illegally collecting about $42 million worth of contributions last year. Mr. Lee said he will shoulder the entire burden and go to jail for the offenses. He added that he wants leniency for those who helped him.

The former leader of the Grand National Party says his subordinates followed his orders in collecting questionable corporate contributions. But the Yonhap news agency quotes officials as saying that despite the confession, someone else must implicate Mr. Lee for him to be charged. That has not happened yet.

Jaung Hoon is a professor of politics at South Korea's Chung Ang University. He says the scandal is a fall from grace for a man who once had a pristine public image. "He has been famous for his image of "Mr. Clean." He was a judge of the Supreme Court. He has a reputation for [being] clean about his personal life," he says. "But, later on, in his political career, Korean people got to realize that Mr. Clean has failed to resist the old bad habits of Korean politics." He adds it is not unusual in South Korea for the winning party to investigate the losing candidate. But he notes that this time, scandals also surround the winner of last year's election, President Roh Moo-hyun.

Mr. Lee made his confession a day after President Roh said he would resign if an inquiry revealed his aides had accepted more than one-tenth the amount of the illegal funding received by his opponent. Aides of both men have been arrested as part of the corruption case.

President Roh is a former human rights lawyer who was narrowly elected on an anti-corruption platform. He had proposed holding a referendum as a vote of confidence of his administration, but now says that is not possible and will seek another way to hold a mandate.

The investigations into last December's election have plunged South Korean politics into disarray. The country has long had a problem with politicians accepting illegal favors from powerful corporations.