12/20/2003, 00.00
south korea
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Card. Kim tells South Korean leaders to come clean

Seoul (AsiaNews/SCMP) - The leader of South Korea's Catholic Church has called on the nation's political leaders to come clean about their involvement in the country's largest ever corruption scandal.

The call came during a private meeting between Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan and the leader of the opposition Millennium Democratic Party, Chough Soon-hyung.

"Now that allegations of illegal fund-raising during last year's presidential election campaign have turned out to be true, those involved in irregularities should come forward, ask for God's forgiveness and face the consequences, even if it means that they have to go to prison," reports quoted Cardinal Kim as saying.

Cardinal Kim is a widely respected public figure in the country, partly because of his leading role in the democracy movement in the 1980s and his comments have received widespread attention.

Newspaper reports say the 81-year old religious leader also personally rebuked President Roh Moo-hyun.

"I am concerned that Mr Roh turns a deaf ear to his critics. I am wondering whether he believes that he can fight his way through with the help of his supporters" the Catholic leader was reported as saying.

Cardinal Kim's comments are likely to find a sympathetic audience among an increasingly cynical electorate which is confronted daily with new revelations of corruption against the country's politicians.

State prosecutors are carrying out a wide-ranging investigation into the funding of last December's presidential elections.

They have accused some of the country's largest business conglomerates, including Hyundai, Samsung and LG of giving millions of dollars in illegal political donations.

The widening probe has implicated all the country's major political parties and close aides of the president.

Mr Roh, a former human rights lawyer who was elected last year on a pledge to end the corruption endemic to the country's politics, has instead found himself damaged by allegations against his aides. The president has offered to resign if his camp is discovered to have received one-tenth of the illegal funds collected by his opposition rival in last year's presidential election.

"In a sense I am disappointed. President Roh hasn't demonstrated any strong initiative in carrying through political reforms to end this corruption," said Kim Soo-jin, a spokesman for the civic group, the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.

"The efforts towards political reform are happening not because of him, but despite him."


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