[FOUNTAIN]An ancient form of trade

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[FOUNTAIN]An ancient form of trade

The word “bribe” was also used to mean a gift until the Middle Ages. The distinction between a bribe and a gift must not have been very clear. At the time, only overly extravagant gifts fell in the category of unlawful deals. Bribery can be traced all the way back to the beginning of human history. Along with prostitution, bribery is one of the oldest forms of trade among humans.
John T. Noonan Jr., a former U.S. federal court judge, argues in “Bribes” that bribery had been a major social nuisance in ancient Egypt. The Egyptian dynasty at the time defined a bribe as “a gift that perverts judgment.” The book explains the struggles of the Egyptian authorities to set guidelines to determine bribes and to punish them. Ancient Koreans had a similar problem. A mural presumed to have been drawn in the Gojoseon period describes a chieftain of a tribe treating the soldiers differently after receiving a gift of meat and food. During the Goryeo Dynasty, ladies bribed artists to draw more flattering portraits, which were to be sent to the king. From the Joseon Dynasty, when the system of a state was established, authorities strengthened the punishment for bribery. Government officials who received bribes were to be flogged and banished. Serious offenders were branded with the word do-gwanmul, meaning “robbed government properties,” on the shoulder. However, some bribes were often passed as customary gifts and the standard was quite ambiguous.
As the government becomes increasingly strict on bribery, bribes are delivered in various ingenious ways. The special gifts include a fruit box or a cake box filled with cash or expensive goods. Cash is also hidden inside dried croaker boxes, soda cases, suitcases and golf bags. Bribers start to hand over the cash as what they called “specially ordered delicious apples” or “fish for ancestor worship ceremony during the holiday.”
For example you can fill an apple box with 400 million won ($420,800) worth of 10,000 won bills. one hundred million won in 10,000 won bills weighs 7 kilograms (15 pounds), so an apple box with 400 million won is quite heavy, about 28 kilograms. The moment you lift the box, you can tell it is quite a “special” gift.
The prosecutors are investigating the wives of lawmakers, who received cake boxes filled with cash from prospective candidates for the party’s nominations for the local government body heads. However, one of the alleged bribe-takers claimed he did not know cash was hidden in the cake box. He argues that he did not realize the intention hidden behind the gift. Greed has produced yet another farce.


by Park Jai-hyun

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