중앙데일리

Sukuk bond legislation is delayed

[NEWS ANALYSIS] Christian opposition proves effective ahead of April parliamentary by-elections

4·27 재·보선을 위해… 여, ‘수쿠크법’ 일단 연기

Feb 24,2011
The National Assembly will delay consideration of a bill on an issuance of Islamic sukuk bonds by Korean companies until after by-elections scheduled for April 27 out of fears of offending Christian groups.

The ruling Grand National Party had originally scheduled the legislation to be considered this month during the parliament’s special session.

Local Christian groups have strongly lobbied against the bill and threatened to launch campaigns against lawmakers who supported the legislation.

Sukuk bonds conform to Islamic law that bans interest payments and instead offer bondholders dividends or leasing profits as compensation.

The pending legislation would have offered tax concessions on Korean issuers of sukuk bonds in order to tap capital from oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.

The Ministry of Strategy and Finance has been pushing for an issuance of sukuk bonds, which have become popular in international financial markets.

Analysts say that Islamic Middle Eastern countries have amassed large capital reserves because of rising oil prices.

“China and Middle Eastern countries are able to provide the capital needed for investments because of their large foreign reserves, and they are taking the place of the U.S. and Britain in this regard,” said Nam Kyeong-hoon at Korea Investment & Securities.

“Securing Islamic finance has become a new trend in the financial sector. It is no longer a question of deciding whether or not to rely on Islamic financing, but it has become a must for the financial industry,” Nam said.

Some local financial experts say the issuance of sukuk would help Korean companies conclude deals in the Middle East, including securing construction and nuclear plant orders.

The issuance of sukuk bonds by Korean companies has been discussed since 2009 as the country sought to diversify ways to secure foreign currency loans in the wake of the global financial crisis.

But the legislation quickly encountered opposition from local Christian groups, which claim that the tax exemption would amount to special privilege benefiting Islam.

The Rev. Kiel Ja-yeon, head of the Christian Council of Korea, said, “Islamic countries plan to ‘Islamize’ the world by seducing other countries with their oil money. This plan is supported by Osama bin Laden.”

He added, “It would be a huge threat to our economy if a massive amount of Islamic money comes in and then suddenly disappears again by fleeing the country due to religious conflict.”

Jun Byung-hun, the opposition Democratic Party’s chief policy maker, offered a similar argument about the dangers of the sukuk legislation.

“Oil money amounting to around 30 trillion won [$27 billion] is already in the country regardless of whether the sukuk bill passes or not. After the global financial crisis in 2008, the local market already has excessive capital liquidity, so the reckless inflow of more foreign capital to the local market would result in losses if the foreign funds are withdrawn.”

The bill’s opponents also claimed that the sukuk bonds would help finance Islamic terrorist groups.

They claim that 2.5 percent of the proceeds from the issuance of a sukuk bond is transferred to the zakat program, a tax paid by Muslims to help the poor.

A government official said, “Zakat is similar to the tithe paid in Christianity. It is not just charged to the issuance of sukuk bonds but to every economic transaction in Islam.”

He added, “If the sukuk bill is being opposed because of the zakat, then every economic transaction with Islam should be prohibited in Korea.”

Britain, France and Singapore have similar tax exemption laws for sukuk bonds.


By Jung Jae-yoon [jyj222@joongang.co.kr]


Related Korean Article[경향신문]
4·27 재·보선을 위해… 여, ‘수쿠크법’ 일단 연기

한나라당이 이슬람채권(수쿠크)에 세제 혜택을 주는 것을 골자로 하는 조세특례제한법 개정안 처리를 4·27 재·보선 이후로 연기하기로 결정했다. 기독교계의 거센 반발에 부딪힌 여권이 일단 법안 처리 문제를 유보한 모양새다.

한나라당 배은희 대변인은 22일 “오늘 원내대책회의에서 수쿠크법을 2월 국회에서 처리하지 않기로 의견을 모았다”며 “4월 재·보선 이후로 연기됐다고 보면 된다”고 밝혔다. 원내 핵심 관계자도 “수쿠크법은 단박에 처리했으면 모를까, 이미 여기저기 이야기가 나와서 2월 임시국회 처리가 사실상 어려울 것 같다”고 밝혔다.

한나라당이 수쿠크법 처리를 미룬 것은 재·보선을 앞두고 기독교계의 강한 반발을 의식한 것으로 분석된다. 한국기독교총연합회(한기총) 길자연 대표회장 등 교계 지도자 4명은 지난 21일 김성조 국회 기재위원장을 방문해 수쿠크법 반대의사를 밝히며 한나라당을 압박했다. 한기총 지도부는 앞서 지난 17일에는 안상수 대표를 예방한 자리에서 “국회에서 수쿠크법이 통과되면 한나라당 의원에 대한 낙선운동도 불사하겠다”고 밝혔다. 이 때문에 당초 찬성 입장이던 국회 기획재정위 소속 의원들도 “언급조차 할 수 없는 상황” “말하기 무섭다”며 유보로 선회하고 있다.

당장 한나라당 입장에서는 수쿠크법이 정부 입법이지만 기독교계와 맞서는 데 부담이 커진 상황이다. 4월 재·보선과 내년 총선에서 적극적인 수쿠크법 반대 운동을 표방한 교회의 조직력을 무시할 수 없기 때문이다. 국회 기획재정위 관계자는 “수쿠크법은 기독교계가 개입하면서 이미 경제논리를 떠난 문제”라며 “당장 표를 갖고 압박하는데 한나라당이 법안 처리 문제를 일단 늦추는 쪽으로 방향을 잡은 것”이라고 말했다.




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