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[Op-Ed] A Pack of Wolves

Posted February. 20, 2009 03:10,   


A joke has it that Korean businessmen fear “disfavor by the powerful” most. This expression is derived from past experience; companies with weaknesses produced as a byproduct of rapid economic development were destined to fail if people in power began to disfavor them. The punishment of businesses for corruption was an easy way to control them. Many companies fell into favor or disfavor depending on their relations with the administration in power at the time.

The Chun Doo-hwan administration in 1985 dissolved the Kukje Group, then the country’s seventh-largest conglomerate. Officially, the government claimed that the group recklessly expanded its business and this led to poor management. Rumors, however, said the real reason was that group chairman Yang Chung-mo ignored the fundraising drive for the president’s Ilhae Foundation, and because Yang was late for a gathering of leading conglomerate heads hosted by President Chun, which apparently offended him. The Constitutional Court ruled that the disintegration of the Kukje Group was unconstitutional in 1993, but it was too late to save the group.

The Shin Donga Group disintegrated under the Kim Dae-jung administration in 1999. Group chairman Choi Soon-young recently told a newspaper, “I was the target of political revenge because I did not give money to a key member of the Kim Dae-jung camp in the 1997 presidential campaign who said ‘Give us more money than you gave to presidential candidate Kim Young-sam in 1992.’ The key figures of the Kim Dae-jung administration attacked like a pack of wolves and tore the 20 trillion won (17.6 billion U.S. dollars) company to pieces.” Choi added, “When the Kim Dae-jung administration took office, nine key secret members pointed their fingers at my business. I was told the truth about the nine by a key member of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation for the Asia Pacific Region.”

It is too early to say if Choi’s claim is true. It is also hard to accept he was sent to prison and his group was disintegrated for no reason. If political influence was involved in the disintegration of Shin Donga, however, this might be a serious issue rather than an individual matter. Moreover, his claims are so specific and clear, it is hard to believe he made things up. To eliminate the expression “disfavor by the powerful,” a thorough investigation of this suspicion is needed.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)