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Feigning illness

Posted November. 20, 2010 14:00,   


Almost everyone has a childhood memory of pretending to be ill. Feigning a sudden stomachache or headache to avoid doing an errand, going to school, or doing homework often turns into a cherished childhood memory. In the time of the Joseon Dynasty when a scholar wanted to quit a government position or decline a ranking post to follow his beliefs, he often feigned illness or said he had to care for his parents as an excuse.

Entrepreneurs and politicians under investigation or on trial for corruption often resort to feigning illness. They are often released on bail due to ill health or get their penalties suspended by getting hospitalized. In September 2007, the U.K. daily Financial Times said Korean conglomerate chiefs use wheelchairs when they face hardship. The newspaper sarcastically said business groups exploit wheelchairs when facing difficult situations, and that courts often handed down lenient sentences to them. Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo appeared in court in a wheelchair and dressed in a hospital uniform in 2006, and Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn did the same in 2007. Perhaps because their strategy of feigned illness worked, they both were released with suspended prison sentences.

Former Daewoo Group Chairman Kim Woo-choong, former Hanbo Group Chairman Chung Tae-soo and former Taekwang Industry Chairman Park Yeon-cha also went to court in wheelchairs wearing hospital uniforms. Park was sentenced to 30 months in prison at an appeals court trial in January, but was released on bail for ill health. He lives freely in his hometown where he even enjoyed a traditional game over the Lunar New Year`s holidays. Not to be overlooked is the floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, Park Jie-won, who is a politician who has exploited a wheelchair to get a lenient sentence. In a trial on the Hyundai Group’s slush fund scandal in 2004, he presented a miserable image by wearing an eye bandage after undergoing surgery for glaucoma. His half-gray hair was disheveled and Ringer’s solution was on his arm.

Chun Shin-il, a friend of President Lee Myung-bak and chairman of Sejoong Namo Tour, is suspected of taking millions of dollars in bribes in return for doing business favors. He sent Korean prosecutors the results of a medical checkup he received in Japan, where he is hiding. The doctor’s comments said, “He needs hospitalization or outpatient treatment,” but prosecutors insisted he is healthy to undergo investigation as soon as he returns to Korea. Unless he is suffering from a hard-to-cure disease that is untreatable at a Korean hospital, he must immediately return home for treatment and investigation. Chun is hardly free from criticism that he is trying to feign illness to stay overseas.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)