Public justiceHyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo got three years in prison from the Seoul High Court, but with five years of probation on charges of embezzling billions of won and raising a slush fund, he won’t be going to jail.
With the suspended sentence, the court ordered Chung to give lectures and write articles on corporate governance for newspapers. While the case was pending Chung promised to donate 1 trillion won ($1.1 billion) to charity in a successful bid to draw a favorable ruling. He now has to come forward with the money.
Not being sent to prison does not mean that he is not guilty. The appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision finding him guilty on all counts.
But the higher court considered the circumstances, and instead of doing time in prison, the court decided it was more beneficial for him to perform community service.
“Sending a convict to prison is not always the best solution,” said Judge Lee Jae-hong, who presided over the case. “A person with talent should pay back with his abilities and a person with wealth can use the money to contribute to society.” The comment reflects Lee’s awareness of pubic criticism for showing leniency to white-collar crime.
We understand how the judges had to balance the concept of equality before the law with reality. The answer was given to the court from the general public. During the final ruling, Judge Lee claimed that, “It was the common people, rather than the propertied, who wanted probation rather than directly sending the head of the country’s largest automobile manufacturer to prison.
“People are more interested in money and how to earn a living than in justice,” he said. The public sentiment, the judge said, was for creating more jobs and reviving the economy rather than worrying about whether Chung bought himself out of prison.
Chung is now free from the fetters that kept him from participating freely in managing the company. But it is not an indulgence given to him by the court.
It is also not a special benefit granted by the authorities. It is rather a stimulus for Chung to devote himself to managing the companies. Now, Chung has a debt to the public and it is a huge shackle.
Chung has the obligation and responsibility to make the company globally competitive. He has to stop the many wrong practices of the past and bring more transparency to the company. The peoples’ eyes are on Chung’s actions.