Photo: Korea Times
As long as “chaebol leniency” continues, a corruption-free Korean society will not be realized.
The Seoul High Court judge (Chung Hyungsik) of the 13th Criminal Division found Vice-Chair Lee not guilty of the major charges and released him from probationary imprisonment. Lee was charged with bribing the former President Park Geun-hye through Choi Soon-sil. Although it is clear that Park Geun-hye has sought Choi Soon-sil’s aid that resulted into the merging of Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T which are now operating the Korean national pension, Lee Jae-yong is found not guilty of the major charges. In addition, it is inconceivable to release Lee from his probationary imprisonment even though he has been charged with bribery amounting to 3.6 billion Korean Won, a huge sum which demands severe punishment in Korean law. The country will only attain just and fair society when the common expression (or practice) “Almighty is the dollar” or “One law for the rich and another for the poor” is totally stopped as a practice.
Many people believe that the courts have been tolerant to those who have power and money, while the ordinary people who committed petty crimes are severely punished. Since former President Park Geun-hye is impeached for having monopolized the politics in the country, people have also expected the court to eliminate political control and to see justice done to Vice Chairman Lee. However, the High Court’s very disappointing ruling has once again shown that the powerful Samsung tycoon is not justly penalized according to law.
In March of last year, Transparency International published results of the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB 2017) for the 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The GCB has interviews with 22,000 thousand citizens in those 16 countries. For South Korea, only 3% answered that they had bribed public services, but 71% answered that they want to report any corrupt activity. Based on this report, Koreans rated Korea with low bribery rate than Australia, which shows that Koreans prefer to report public corruption and have a fair perception of how to counter corrupt practices.
The major corruption problem in Korea is the sophisticated and corrupted networking of our leaders as exemplified by Choi Soon-sil’s scandal case. According to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) result released in January 2017, South Korea ranked 52nd out of 176 countries with 53 out of 100 points. A score of 50 means that it is quite difficult for a country to eliminate corruption in a short period. The international community’s assessment of corruption in Korea, which says that our courts do ‘chaebol leniency’ ruling, is very straightforward.
Corruption is an undeniable problem as it damages public trust; it is unfair, it misuses resources and it deteriorates the quality of people’s lives. Leaving corrupt practice to its present state, our society will not move forward, nor a sustainable economic development will be achieved. The corrupt relationship between political and business circles is our society’s greatest problem which can only be prevented from recurring with just punishment of the perpetrators. Transparency International-Korea Chapter is, therefore, urging the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision and reconfirm that its appellate judgment on Lee Jae-yong is not acceptable and outrageously erroneous.
6 February 2018