Avoiding past mistakes

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Avoiding past mistakes

The Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office has embarked on a swift and aggressive investigation into C& Group, a midsize Korean conglomerate. Prosecutors arrested group chairman Lim Byung-seok last week during a raid of the company’s headquarters and affiliates.

Such prompt action could not have taken place unless prosecutors already had sufficient evidence in hand. The gravity of the case is underscored by the fact that the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office is heading up the investigation. Seoul District prosecutors have handled high-profile slush fund scandals involving large conglomerates like Hanwha and Taekwang, but the biggest cases are passed onto the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office.

Many conglomerates engage in illegal and questionable activities such as raising slush funds to lobby government officials, falsifying accounting records and embezzling corporate capital as they recklessly expand their business operations. All types of corruption are no doubt bad, but an act that involves a company owner embezzling money from corporate coffers and intentionally letting the firm plunge into bankruptcy or get delisted from the stock market is particularly despicable. Such moves can cost workers their jobs and devastate shareholders.

C& Group’s Lim is being accused of such a crime.

Lim, founder of the group, allegedly abused his hometown connections to reach out to officials under the administrations of presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun in order to enlarge the company’s operations. In recent years, group affiliates have become saddled with debt problems, with two teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Prosecutors must uncover whether the group engaged in illegal activities and corruption during its expansion.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office halted a high-profile investigation of former President Roh and his family after he committed suicide in the spring of last year. It not only failed to file charges against the former president, but it also came under fire for humiliating the president to the point that he took his own life. The official leading the investigation stepped down and prosecutors closed the case, implying that there is some degree of truth to the accusations.

The Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office is now again investigating political-corporate connections. It must not repeat its past mistakes.

The investigation must be resolute and thorough, as well as progressive, to get to the bottom of the case.

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