South Korean Politician Embroiled in Fake News Corruption Scandal Commits Suicide

Roh Hoe-chan
Han Jong-chan/Yonhap via AP

South Korean lawmaker Roh Hoe-chan, 61, evidently leaped to his death from an apartment building in Seoul on Sunday night or Monday morning. A suicide note was found in his jacket 17 stories up in which Roh apologized for his misdeeds and asked voters not to punish the Justice Party he belonged to.

Roh was embroiled in the seemingly minor but relentlessly growing “Druking” scandal, which began when a blogger was caught manipulating comments on a news website—the sort of activity that has become known as “election meddling” in the United States. In his suicide note, Roh reportedly admitted to taking money from the group headed by Kim Dong-won, who is more widely known by his online alias “Druking.” Roh had previously denied accepting any money from the group.

According to Korea Joongang Daily, Roh’s suicide note insisted he made no unscrupulous promises to Druking’s group in return for the money. He essentially claimed he made an innocent mistake by failing to report the contributions correctly. Roh is said to have received the money from a lawyer linked to Druking who was also Roh’s high-school classmate.

“Who am I to blame? It was a really foolish choice and a shameful decision. I must take responsibility,” the politician wrote before killing himself. Even given South Korea’s high suicide rate, that seems like a severe overreaction to an innocent mistake, but KJD notes the independent counsel investigating the Druking affair planned to summon Roh and query him about yet another suspicious payment he received from the group years ago.

The investigative team said it was possible they might have indicted Roh on political corruption charges, even though he was seen as a somewhat peripheral figure in the scandal.

“Dear fellow citizens, I’m sorry. It’s entirely my fault, so please punish me and I’d like you to continue to support the Justice Party,” Roh wrote in his publicly-released suicide note.

Korea Joongang Daily reported that Roh left two other suicide notes to his wife and mother. His family has asked for the content of those notes to remain private.

The South Korean political world was rocked by Roh’s death, the highest-profile political suicide since former President Roh Moo-hyun killed himself in 2009, also by leaping from a great height after a bribery scandal was revealed. President Roh’s suicide note was presented to the media by his family lawyer, former law firm partner, and fellow liberal activist Moon Jae-in, who is currently the president of South Korea.

It is hard to imagine what must be going through President Moon’s mind as he deals with a second, eerily similar political suicide a decade later. Moon said on Monday that his “heart really aches” over the “sad news” of Roh’s suicide. Many in the South Korean political establishment felt it was a shocking end for a crusading transparency activist who was once known as “Mr. Clean.”

“It’s truly heartbreaking to hear the unexpected sad news. I pray for his soul and offer words of consolation to his family,” said Huh Ik-bum, the special prosecutor investigating the Druking allegations.

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