[EDITORIALS]Prosecute the tax officials

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[EDITORIALS]Prosecute the tax officials

Prosecutors are investigating four high-level National Tax Service officials about 30 million won ($24,000) in bribes from entertainment management companies. We experience an unpleasant sense of numbness learning that the recent kickback controversy that shook the entertainment industry has its tendrils stretched to the tax authorities.

How the central tax agency officials pocketed the kickbacks is typical of irregularities that have marked the agency. One senior official, hospitalized in late 2000 after an audit of entertainment management companies, reportedly received money in the form of payment for his hospital fees. Other senior officials reportedly took money hidden in cosmetic packages. The tax officials claim they intended to return the funds, but could not because their benefactors avoided them. Only in July 2002, when the prosecution started investigating these companies, did the tax officials return the money. Thus, we would not be far off in assuming that they never really intended to return the funds. These officials, it should be noted, were supposed to be combating tax corruption.

With instances like this, how are we to believe that tax officials have been fair in levying taxes and that their hands are clean? More dumbfounding is the fact that these officials were the same people promoted for last year's tax audit of major newspapers and broadcasting companies, the most extensive on record. Ahn Jung-nam, the NTS's former commissioner during the press audit, was discovered to have amassed property in Gangnam, southern Seoul, creating "Ahn's family town." He fled the country in November 2001, but no action has been taken to apprehend him, putting another serious question mark about the government's pursuit of fair and just taxation.

The NTS has received resignations from the four officials. The prosecution, however, is reportedly mulling how to prosecute them since there is no concrete evidence that the money was given in return for preferential treatment. With credibility of the NTS having hit bottom, both the prosecution and the NTS should deal sternly with this latest case.

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