Go to contents

Murky choice for chief of fair trade watchdog

Posted March. 15, 2013 07:46,   


President Park Geun-hye nominated Han Man-soo, a law professor at Ewha Womans University, as chairman of the Fair Trade Commission on Thursday. A graduate of Seoul National University`s College of Law, he worked for Kim & Chang, one of the leading law firms in Korea, from 1984 to 1996, and for Yulchon LLC from 1996 to 2002. He then returned to Kim & Chang in 2002 and worked for five years before joining Ewha in 2007. Han is known to be an expert in tax law rather than antitrust law. Why he was named to head the antitrust watchdog remains cloudy since he was cited as a candidate to take over the National Tax Service.

“I will faithfully implement President Park Geun-hye’s campaign promises of economic democratization,” Han said Thursday. On his lack of expertise in antitrust law, he said he handled many antitrust cases while working at law firms and helped to devise the president`s campaign pledges related to economic democratization. As a promoter of the Institute for the Future of State, a think tank for her presidential campaign, Han was a core member of the economic democratization team for her election bid.

Having worked only as a lawyer and professor, Han has never been a public servant. So he is expected to be free from the practice of receiving preferential treatment in cases as certain lawyers who used to be prosecutors or judges did. He will probably not return to public service after working for private law firms, and is likely well aware of unfair legal practices if he undertook antitrust cases.

Nevertheless, is it appropriate for a former lawyer who represented business for 23 years to head the trade watchdog, which is also called an “economic prosecutor?” Kim & Chang and Yulchon have taken on many lawsuits involving fair trade, mostly companies suing the government to protest fines on them for unfair business practices or illegal insider trading. Han’s experience at the two firms could turn out to be a stumbling block in pursuing economic fairness and democratization.

Another red flag is the enormous influence that such big law firms as Kim & Chang and Yulchon could have over the trade watchdog. One big question is if Han clean up big business without being swayed by the two law firms where he worked for a combined 26 years. Baek Yong-ho and Kim Dong-soo, who served as chairmen of the trade watchdog under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, were said to lack sufficient expertise in antitrust cases. This time, President Park has fueled more worry by choosing a tax expert who could pose a possible conflict of interest between big business and the government as the chief of the Fair Trade Commission.