[Outlook]A favor from SamsungI feel uncomfortable writing a column about the Samsung scandal because the allegations raised by lawyer Kim Yong-cheol haven’t been confirmed yet. However, it also feels wrong as a columnist to remain silent on the issue so I’ve decided to say what I have to say even though I might be criticized for it.
There is something odd about Samsung. The company is highly praised abroad while being underrated in Korea. Years ago, when I was a correspondent in Washington, I went to play golf. I was teamed up with an American in his 30s who came to play alone.
When I said I was from Korea, the first words he said were, “Oh, Samsung!” He was a salesman of home appliances so he said when he heard the word Korea he automatically thought of Samsung. The whole time we played, he praised Samsung and I felt proud.
Koreans who live or used to live abroad must have had similar experiences. When a visitor goes to New York’s Madison Square Garden, he or she is easily overwhelmed by the spectacular nature of the place. While looking around like someone who has never been to a city before, Koreans see billboards for Samsung and LG standing proudly alongside other global brands and feel extremely moved.
Outside of Korea, Samsung is seen as one of the world’s top companies. People might be envious of its success, but no one can underrate it.
However, the company has a somewhat different image inside Korea.
There is a Korean saying that a genius is not acknowledged in his hometown. But Samsung’s case is even more extreme.One can feel as if not joining the trend of criticizing Samsung, makes one as an ill-informed, undereducated boor.
I have my share of bitter feelings about Samsung. I wonder why the company cannot do better. It is a global company that the world is envious of, but it does not live up to its worldwide reputation inside Korea. When lawyer Kim exposed the scandal, Samsung officials said it was not true. But the general public feels that Samsung might very easily be guilty. Samsung has earned that kind of reputation by itself.
I think this is a good opportunity for Samsung. The scandal must be clarified, so the company must reveal whether or not it gave money to prosecutors on traditional holidays, no matter how serious the consequences may be. If the scandal turns out not to be true, Samsung will clear its name. If it is true, the people who are responsible will be held accountable and take the punishment. That wouldn’t make Samsung collapse.
Progressives portray lawyer Kim, who raised the scandal, as a righteous person who has a sense of justice. But something feels wrong. Kim said he is also guilty of the crimes he alleges Samsung committed and would take his punishment. But it is strange to have Catholic priests hold press conferences and leak the list of prosecutors bit by bit instead of doing it himself.
They hold media interviews timed to keep the public interested and allow suspicions to grow. It seems like the whole thing is a well-planned plot to use the media to their advantage. The day before Lim Chai-jin, a prosecutor general nominee, was to have a hearing, he was fingered as one of those who received bribes from Samsung. That was subtle timing indeed. Are they playing a political game, by any chance?
In the meantime, the so-called progressive presidential candidates are going to cast this election as a battle of corrupt forces versus non-corrupt ones. In the 2002 campaign, the Roh Moo-hyun camp sold the campaign as a battle between haves and have-nots, and between just progressives and corrupt conservatives in order to win. In the past, stimulating regionalism was an important campaign strategy. Now that has probably been replaced with choosing a scapegoat, such as Samsung, with which liberals can arouse the electorate.
It is said that lawyer Kim earned 10 billion won ($10 million) during his years at Samsung. That leaves a bitter aftertaste. Many people condemn the company, saying, “Sam-sung must have lots of money, indeed.”
It also seems that Kim feels ashamed of having once worked for Samsung. If so, he might as well donate the 10 billion won he received from Samsung that now feels ashamed of to charities. Some mockingly wonder if he revealed the scandal only because the company doesn’t give him more.
The Catholic priests claimed that there is evidence to prove that prosecutors received bribes from Samsung. Then they must reveal the evidence. They should stop dragging people along with rumors.
There is a favor we must ask of Samsung, as well. It must behave well enough so that Koreans give it at least half the respect and good reputation it enjoys abroad.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk