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Chey Tae-won’s ‘endeavor in prison’

Posted November. 22, 2014 06:15,   


SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won recently published a book titled "The New Endeavor, Social Enterprise," which he wrote in prison. In the book, he suggests the government to provide incentives to enterprises, which are in dilemma between public interest and business viability, based on their contributions to socially valuable works, such as assistance of low-income people and the disabled. After the book was published, people have shown mixed responses with some critics saying, “Is the chaebol business owner, who was convicted and handed four years in prison for using funds from group affiliates in investing in financial derivative products, eligible to suggest that," and others valuing his sincerity toward social enterprises.

The social entrepreneur MBA program at KAIST, which was launched in February last year, was instated at Chey’s suggestion. He donated a Startup Assistance Fund for Social Entrepreneurs (the Chey Tae-won Fund) worth 10 billion won (8.98 million U.S. dollars) to KAIST’s Social Entrepreneur Center. Class 1 students of the program, who will graduate from the course in February next year after studying two years with scholarship, will be granted 50 million won (44,900 dollars) to 100 million won (89,800 dollars) per head of startup investment from the fund.

Chey was arrested during a court trial in January 2013, and has served in prison for one year and 10 months. He is setting a new record every day in terms of the duration of incarceration among owners of the 10 largest conglomerates in Korea. He has not enjoyed benefits such as bail due to illness and stay of execution of sentence, which politicians embroiled in corruption scandals used to often enjoy in the past. Pardon or conditional release of Chey was mentioned once before, but Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said last month, “The government is not considering pardoning Chairman Chey.”

Many of SK Group affiliates, including SK Innovation, are struggling due to deteriorating business performance these days. It is suffering a managerial crisis due to multiple reasons, but the crisis would also be affected to a significant extent by long-term absence of the conglomerate’s owner. Chairman Kim Chang-keun, who is taking charge of group management on Chey’s behalf, said on Nov. 12, “Now, when external business environments are extremely treacherous, deciding on large-scale investment and changing the frame of business games is completely in the realm of the owner’s responsibility.” A businessman who committed wrongdoings deserves corresponding punishment, but Chey has served nearly half of his prison term. With companies and the national economy on a shaky ground, it is about time that Korea comprehensively calculates gains and losses from the situations between keeping the tycoon in prison longer or releasing him.