SOUTH Korea's military past has returned to haunt it with the scandal over former President Roh Tae-woo's US$650 million slush fund which may drive from office those politicians who still remain from that era. The stakes are just as great for Seoul's business conglomerates, known as chaebol. Fifty of them have so far been implicated in illicitly funding Mr Roh. If he is charged, they run the risk of bribery investigations and international discredit. That prospect has been brought closer by the announcement by the prosecutors of a list of 100 businessmen they want to question in connection with the scandal. It has been enough to send the stock-market plummeting, but the immense economic damage which would be caused by any move against the chaebol, the key to South Korea's export-led growth, makes it unlikely that they are under any serious threat. Politicians cannot rest so easy. Already, opposition leader Kim Dae-jung has been implicated, reluctantly revealing that he accepted US$2.5 million from the slush fund. President Kim Young-sam's attempts to remain above the fray are wearing increasingly thin. With opponents charging that he received 'hundreds of millions of won' in illicit donations, President Kim was forced to admit that his 1992 campaign fund received some donations from Mr Roh - but he insists he knew nothing about them. At stake are next April's National Assembly elections. If President Kim is more deeply implicated, his Democratic Liberal Party could be wiped out by a public weary that the end of military rule has done nothing to stem the 'Korean disease' of graft tainting every area of public life. That would set the stage for a new leader, untainted by the past, to emerge in time for the 1997 presidential elections. But if President Kim can substantiate his claims of innocence, and move decisively against those who were involved, the scandal presents a perfect opportunity to purge his party of Mr Roh's supporters. This could then make it the driving force for leading South Korea into a less corrupt era.