[FOUNTAIN]What exactly constitutes a bribe?

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[FOUNTAIN]What exactly constitutes a bribe?

One of the most dramatic “bribes” in history involved Xi Shi, a famous beauty who was sent by King Gou Jian of Yue to Fu Zha, the king of Wu, during the Spring and Autumn period in ancient China.
Defeated by the Wu kingdom, Gou Jian sent Xi Shi to distract Fu Zha and finally take over Wu. While such a bribe would be a criminal offense under modern law, there was no law to punish such a transaction in ancient China. Bribery is a product of civilization.
Bribery likely has existed since prehistoric times, but it is only fairly recently that giving and taking bribes has become a crime. American sociologist Edwin Sutherland was the first to call attention to the criminal nature of bribery in his book “While Collar Crime,” published in 1949. Thanks to Mr. Sutherland, bribery has become a major issue in criminology.
According to Korean law, bribery is a criminal offense based on two characteristics. A bribe is a consideration that satisfies human desires, including cash, gifts, entertainment and sexual favors. It also must be an illegal reward in return for a favor related to a civil servant’s job. A civil servant’s duty includes not only his actual work but also the influence he can exert through his position. But when the law is actually applied, it is hard to define what constitutes a consideration or a duty.
Take the money a civil servant can win from a golf bet. Prosecutors wonder whether they should indict a municipal official who received nearly 100 million won from businessmen after playing golf. He had the power to influence the issuance of construction permits, and had received money from builders. But is this bribe taking? The civil servant claims that he earned the money by playing golf, which would be an innocent reward for his labor. The prosecutors find the claim not entirely groundless.
How about a wedding gift? An official at a central government agency received a huge amount in gifts from pharmaceutical companies for his son’s wedding. While the authorities say they would consider any gift over 500,000 won a bribe, the law does not specify that a gift of less than 490,000 won is legal.
Perhaps the limit of a bribe is defined by the generally accepted standards of a society at a particular time. So, what would be the standard for bribery in Korean society in 2004?


by Lee Kyu-youn

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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