[EDITORIALS]Balancing a bank's books

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[EDITORIALS]Balancing a bank's books

A local commercial bank has raised some eyebrows by distributing to its branch offices copies of a book authored by a candidate running for the governor of Gyeonggi province just a few days before the June 13 elections. On Monday, Kookmin Bank, Korea's biggest commercial lender, began sending to its 1,100 branches around the country copies of "Reviving the Economy, Reviving the Country," written by Jin Nyum, most recently finance and economy minister and now a Millennium Democratic Party candidate for the Gyeonggi governorship. On Wednesday it scurried to withdraw the copies after the National Election Commission, the state election watchdog, began an investigation into possible violations of election law. Kookmin Bank argues that since last year, its head office has bought books recommended by employees to hand out to employees as a worker training program. The book in question, it says, was part of that program.

How many people will swallow such an explanation? There is an old Korean proverb that says, "Do not tie your shoelaces in a melon field." In other words, your actions can be easily misunderstood. Kookmin should not have distributed over a thousand copies of a candidate's books just before an election. The election law prohibits any campaigning through the distribution of printed material to the general public except for official leaflets that have been approved by the election body. It is also a violation of rules that prohibit making financial contributions to a candidate during a campaign.

Kookmin Bank has been leading the country's restructuring of the banking sector since the 1997 Asian economic crisis, and has become the nation's representative financial institution. Customers and shareholders have high expectations.

It is hard to figure out why the bank decided to take steps that could have an enormous impact on the highly competitive local elections. Buying a politician's book in great volume could be equal to political donations. The authorities must investigate the case and check whether there are any similar incidents involving other banks.

The banking sector must be saved from politics.
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