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[Op-Ed] Dividends from Illegal Profits

Posted April. 16, 2009 09:25,   


Prosecutors say a host of figures who wielded influence under the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration took bribes from Taekwang Industry Chairman Park Yeon-cha. They include the former president’s older brother Gun-pyeong, his confidant and lawmaker Lee Kwang-jae, former National Assembly Speaker Kim Won-ki, and former senior presidential secretary Park Jeong-kyu. From the president, lawmakers, civil servants and judges to prosecutors, police officers and provincial executives, influential figures received kickbacks worth tens of millions of dollars from Park without feeling the pangs of conscience. They portrayed themselves as morally perfect and blasted others as if all were corrupt. Behind the scenes, however, they also surrendered to the lure of big money.

A slew of close aides to Roh are also on the list of those who allegedly took bribes from Changshin Textile CEO Kang Keum-won. Among them are Ahn Hee-jung, a member of the opposition Democratic Party’s executive committee; former presidential spokesman Yoon Tae-yeong; former presidential secretary Yim Chang-kyu; former administrative officer Yeo Taek-soo; Myeong Kye-nam, the former head of Rohsamo, a private club supporting Roh; and former presidential chief of staff Kim Woo-sik. Kim is said to have even received office rental fees from Kang. Given this, it is safe to say those who did not take bribes from Park and Kang were not influential members under the Roh administration.

Most of the money Park used for bribes came from illegal profits he earned in return for helping politicians. Roh’s brother received kickbacks in return for helping Park take over Huchems Fine Chemical, a subsidiary of Nonghyup, at a below-market price. Park also won a contract for the construction of a coal power plant in Vietnam worth 30 billion dollars in December 2007, allegedly with Roh’s help. The profits from the contract were reportedly used for bribes. This is a typical case of politico-economic collusion in which a businessman offers his ill-gotten money to politicians. The 26.6 billion won (20 million U.S. dollars) Kang used to grease the palms of politicians and public officials also came from criminal activities such as embezzlement and tax evasion.

Innocent companies unfairly left out of competition are the victims of such shady transactions. Korea’s tainted national image and disturbed economy has damaged the entire nation. As the Roh administration’s irregularities are brought to light, constituents who supported Roh in the presidential and general elections will feel utterly discouraged. Such corrupt politicians and public officials are no different from hoodlums who extort money from street vendors as “protection money,” and corrupt police officers who receive bribes in return for overlooking offenses.

Editorial Writer Park Sung-won (swpark@donga.com)