The suicide of former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun brought a tragic end to the life of a politician who did much to strengthen democracy at home and ease tensions with communist North Korea. He enjoyed a reputation in his country's scandal-ridden politics as a clean leader, yet, barely a year after leaving office, he was questioned as a suspect in a multimillion-dollar corruption inquiry that has implicated former aides and relatives, including his wife. Paradoxically, one of the lasting contributions he made while in office between 2003 and last year was to break up, or at least discourage, long-established ties between politicians and the country's powerful conglomerates. Reforms following the Asian financial crisis more than a decade ago had helped limit the fearsome powers of the chaebol, which used to extend across the entire economy; Roh's administration sought to undermine further their influence in politics. In this context, it is worth observing that the corruption scandal that engulfed him involved a wealthy but obscure shoe manufacturer. In the past, such scandals usually implicated senior executives from one or more of the chaebol. Roh had apologised for the wrongdoings of his associates but denied he was guilty. Police said he killed himself by jumping off a cliff. The country has one of the world's highest suicide rates. Last year, actress Choi Jin-sil killed herself because of malicious rumours spread against her on the internet. This is an alarming trend. As president, Roh stopped using his nation's spy agency and the police as instruments of the state to exert control. He also sought to improve relations with the North and distance his government from the US, a long-time ally. He did not succeed on either score. The North's behaviour has become increasingly unpredictable and provocative; Roh's successor, Lee Myung-bak, is a staunch supporter of the US and advocates closer ties with it. Roh's career rode on the back of South Korea's successful transition from authoritarian dictatorship to fully fledged democracy, at a time when it emerged as one of the hi-tech tiger economies. His sudden death in such sad circumstances should prompt reflection.