[EDITORIAl] Something Smells at the Fish Market

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[EDITORIAl] Something Smells at the Fish Market

The Fair Trade Commission ruled that Sajo Industrial Co. and its affiliate, Keumjin Distribution, colluded, unsuccessfully, with another friendly company to buy Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market. The antitrust agency has asked prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into the allegations. The move was not unexpected since questions of possible impropriety on the part of the companies led by Sajo had been already raised.

Sajo should be punished if an investigation uncovers evidence that collusion took place. Colluding to rig prices or bids undermines market principles. Our antitrust laws treat such infractions harshly to ensure that our economy grows based on the rules of the market.

The commission said Sajo was behind Keumjin's bid to buy the fisheries market. But to prevent the bidding from being nullified if Keumjin was the lone bidder, Sajo allegedly enlisted an unaffiliated but friendly third company to enter the contest at a prearranged price. The fish market eventually went to the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives on Tuesday.

Suspicions have been raised on how the antitrust agency proceeded against Sajo and made its judgment. The case was uncovered by several ruling Millennium Democratic Party lawmakers during the National Assembly inspections one month ago and surfaced in several newspaper reports on the allegations.

The controlling owner of Sajo happens to be an opposition Grand National Party lawmaker. He, and the two companies he controls, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

We recall that several congressional probes were in process at the time, including the so-called Lee Yong-ho-gate. Among them all, the antitrust agency worked on this case so quickly that the entire process from the investigation to the announcement of the judgment was over in less than one month. This is especially unusual given the commission's reputation for being cautious, taking time to make sure it has all the facts right. If the speed at which this case was handled was politically motivated, then we warn that it will deal a serious blow to the Fair Trade Commission's already shaky integrity.
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