[EDITORIALS]Help Koreans in Japan

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[EDITORIALS]Help Koreans in Japan

News that Lee Heui-keon, founder of the failed Kansai Kogin Credit Cooperative, had been arrested by Japanese police was astonishing. Mr. Lee was arrested on charges of providing illegal loans to a country club he had stakes in. We deplore his detention because Mr. Lee had been the financial godfather of some 600,000 Korean residents in Japan and made significant contributions to Korea. He established Shinhan Bank and provided support for the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988.

His punishment is totally up to the Japanese authorities. The problem is that the arrests of Mr. Lee and his son are undermining the credit foundation of the Korean community in Japan. Credit unions, such as Kansai Kogin, have been the major financing sources for ethnic Koreans since the end of World War II. Thirty-four of these institutions existed at the end of 1997. But more than half of them have gone under, submerged by Japan's economic troubles. Most of the credit unions run by pro-Pyeongyang ethnic Koreans have collapsed, too. For Korean residents, most of whom are self-employed, getting funds to run their businesses has been difficult because Japanese banks are turning a cold shoulder to Koreans operating small businesses with low credit ratings.

Adding to their troubles, attempts by the Korean government and pro-Seoul Korean organizations to set up a bank to replace the beleaguered credit unions failed last year. Under the plan, Korean residents in Japan chipped in to raise as much money as possible, with capital investment by the governments in Seoul and Tokyo, to establish the bank, designed especially to serve the Korean community. But the efforts failed because of a split in the Korean community and the Korean Embassy's inability to mediate the schism.

Under the situation, the South Korean government must act to restore lending institutions for our brethren society. Setting up a banking institution for Koreans in Japan is still an option, despite last year's failure. Seoul should concentrate its diplomatic and economic ability on mediating a pact between Korean groups in Japan and invite Tokyo's support. Koreans, who have suffered hardships in Japan, should work together to overcome this crisis.
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