Obituary: Roh Moo-Hyun

South Korea’s ex-president to be best remembered for engaging with North Korea.

Roh Moo-hyun
Roh Moo-Hyun was South Korea’s president between 2003-2008 [GALLO/GETTY]

Roh Moo-Hyun, who died after falling from a cliff near his retirement home early on Saturday, served as South Korea’s president from 2003 until 2008, after rising to power on the promise of a break from the widespread corruption, regionalism and money-driven politics.

While Roh, 62, promised to end the culture of Seoul’s old-boys network, public support diminished soon after he arrived in office.

Despite high hopes, accusations of economic mismanagement, personal clashes with the media and rising tensions with the United States dashed the public’s initial excitement.

Roh was an avid supporter of South Korea’s “sunshine policy” of engagement with North Korea.

In depth

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He warned that sanctions against the northern neighbour would only escalate tensions. This in part led his opponenets to accuse him of appeasement.

But towards the end of his term, a historic meeting with Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s leader, ended with the signing of a joint declaration on peace and co-operation.

Before becoming president, Roh was seen as a rising star in the legislature who often challenged the establishment’s authority.

In a 1988 parliamentary hearing of corruption charges against senior officials, his aggressive and bold questioning technique won him much praise.

But his boldness also landed him in jail for three weeks in 1987 after running into trouble with South Korea’s military regime in the 1980s.

Early years

Roh never attended university, but was very studious despite growing up in a poor household in a small farming village near Busan. In 1978 he opened his own law firm to fulfil his dream of becoming an attorney.

He married his childhood sweetheart Kwon Yang Sook. The couple have one daughter and a son.

Despite having presented himself as a departure from Seoul’s corruption-prone past, he was interviewed by prosecutors on charges that he received millions of dollars from a businessman in an extensive bribery scandal.

While he publicly apologised for his family’s involvement in the scandal, he never admitted his personal involvement.

His death occurred as the corruption probe, which centred around a payment worth $1m to his wife from a wealthy shoemaker and a payment by the same man worth $5m to the husband of one of Roh’s nieces, continued in the courts.

Source: News Agencies