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[EDITORIALS]Tax Evaders Have Their Rights

June 03,2001
After the Seoul City Administration requested that financial institutions provide information about the accounts of 127,717 taxpayers who have 1 million won ($769) or more in arrears, the city has obtained information about 58,000 delinquents and has taken proceedings to attach their properties.

It is surprising how the government and financial institutions are indifferent to protection of individuals' financial information. The Seoul City Administration emphasizes the lawfulness of the investigation, of course. It is true that the current under-real-name financial transaction and secret protection law provides that a chief of a relevant authority can request information from a financial institution, for inquiry about property of a tax delinquent. But, since this case covers a large number of taxpayers and many financial institutions, the local government might have violated the provision that the authority should request information from only a certain office of financial institution. It is also controversial that the information about tax delinquents were requested not under the name of the Mayor of Seoul but under the names of ward office heads.

Regardless of lawfulness, it is a serious problem that the Seoul City Administration easily uses such measures to collect taxes from delinquents and that financial institutions provide private information without scruple. The government has no right to demand financial institutions hand over information for its convenience. The government should minimize use of such measures. What will financial institutions do, if all local governments demand for information about accounts of the taxpayers who have 100,000 won or more in arrears? Can such financial institutions hope that investors entrust them with money?

Of course, it is tax delinquents who are to blame first. The government should pursue vicious tax evaders to the end, in order to collect taxes. Though, it is wrong that the government treat all tax defaulters as if they were criminals, for convenience in administration. One of our society's problems is that it is so easy to infringe on an individual's secret. It has recently been reported that the Korea Stock Exchange is searching investors' accounts for illegal trading by insiders. Such cases would deteriorate local investors' sentiment against the regulations providing for disclosure of investors' real names in financial trading and might encourage capital flight to abroad.



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