[EDITORIALS]Another ethical disgraceA former Fair Trade Commission head, Lee Nam-ki, was detained on a charge of asking the SK Group to donate 1 billion won ($830,000) to a Buddhist temple. Legally, that is a form of taking bribes through a third party. It is lamentable that Mr. Lee allegedly called in an official of the SK Group to his office and asked him to donate. Furthermore, he followed up a month after the initial meeting to urge SK to wire the money.
Mr. Lee admits he asked the SK official to donate to the temple, but not in his official capacity. He said the money did not go into his pocket. But if he had not been the commissioner, would the SK official have donated a huge sum to the temple?
The commission is often called “the prosecution for business.” It has strong powers to judge whether companies abide by fair trade rules, and it can also report allegations against them to the prosecution. The organization and its employees should be more careful about wrongdoing than any other organization. The commission’s former head is being pushed around by the prosecution immediately after leaving office; that is not only a dishonor to him but also threatens to wreck public trust in the entire organization. Seeking donations cannot be justified for any reason. How could a man with such a lack of principles hold such an important job?
One billion won is more than what common sense says a government official would donate to a religious group; we wonder if the temple used the money for its stated purpose, because donations to a third party like civic organizations can be a disguise for bribery. Or perhaps there was a quid pro quo for the money, because the commission was reviewing mergers and acquistions of SK affiliates at the time. Since Mr. Lee was dealing with many business groups in his official capacity, the prosecution should look at whether he also asked other business groups for donations.
The charge on Mr. Lee’s detention warrant shows the ethical level of public officials. Look at what we have gotten after decades of shouting about rooting out corruption and wrongdoing by public officials. Throw the book at him.