Gov’t readies bribes bill for summer vote

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Gov’t readies bribes bill for summer vote

The Park Geun-hye administation will propose a law to punish government officials who take bribes or kickbacks even if they do no favors in return.

Cabinet ministers yesterday approved a bill dubbed “a law to ban offering illegal favors and prevent conflicts of interests for government officials,” which will be raised in the National Assembly session in early August. It’s part of the Park administration’s efforts to eradicate nepotism, patronage and influence-peddling.

The core of the bill is punishment for government officials who take any kind of payment, even goodwill gestures. The idea of the law was originally outlined by Kim Young-ran, former chairperson of the state-run Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission in June 2011.

Although anyone who accepts a payment can be charged under the law, punishments differ depending on whether favors were given in exchange for the payment or gift.

Under the law, government officials who give favors for bribes will face a maximum three-year jail term or a maximum fine of 30 million won ($26,934).

But officials who take bribes without giving favors will only be liable to a fine of up to five times the amount of the bribe.

In Korea, many government officials have been acquitted on corruption charges because they successfully argued that they never gave a favor after receiving a bribe. That’s not illegal.

Under the bill, people paying bribes will also be chargeable. If a family member of a government official takes a bribe or kickback and the official is aware of it, the official can be punished.

In order to avoid conflicts of interest for officials, the bill states that if government officials are appointed to positions that present a conflict with their personal interests, they should request a transfer. If they don’t, they can be fined.

Additionally, the bill will prohibit newly-appointed government officials from providing favors to private companies they worked for previously. They will be required to report all former business activities in the private sector to the government prior to their appointment. The bill will be applied to civil servants and lawmakers.

President Park said she wanted to crack down on corruption at a meeting with senior presidential secretaries July 15.

She vowed to “root out all corruption as it is the biggest enemy against democracy and a social disease that hinders the effectiveness of the economic system.”

“These days, officials [in the Blue House] are extremely cautious about meeting outside people,” a Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

“There is a warning being spread [among Blue House officials] that if we meet people and that prompts groundless rumors, the administration could be endangered.”

Most postwar Korean presidents have been tainted by nepotism scandals. Chun Kyung-hwan, younger brother of ex-president Chun Doo Hwan, was convicted of embezzling money from the state-run Saemaeul Movement organization.

Kim Hyun-chul, son of late President Kim Young-sam, was convicted of providing illegal loans to a debt-stricken company but was eventually pardoned by President Kim Dae-jung.

All three sons of Kim Dae-jung were convicted of receiving bribes from businessmen.

Roh Gyeon-pyeong, elder brother of ex-president Roh Moo-hyun, was convicted of receiving bribes from Sejong Securities.

Lee Sang-deuk, elder brother of former president Lee Myung-bak, was convicted of irregularities surrounding the closure of insolvent savings banks.

But some Democratic Party lawmakers say the punishments in the bill are too weak.

When a similar bill was proposed in 2011, all officials who took bribes or kickbacks worth more than 1 million won were liable for jail time regardless of whether they offered favors or not.

A group of DP lawmakers including Representative Min Byung-doo have already proposed their own bill reviving the original.

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