Let’s be prudent on fines

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Let’s be prudent on fines

The government has passed an amendment to the law on collecting taxes and fines in arrears. In a cabinet meeting yesterday, the administration decided to expand the scope of the so-called “Chun Doo Hwan Law” - which was recently reinforced to recover the fines he failed to pay - to the general public from now on. We welcome the decision, but concerns also exist along with some positive effects of the revision.

In a cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, the government approved a revision of the law on the regulation and punishment of profits from crimes after deliberations. If the amendment passes the National Assembly, the government can collect illegal gains even when a person hid them in an account opened in the name of a third person. The government can also expedite the retrieval procedure without having to go through a long and complex legal battle.

In addition, the revision will drastically enhance the execution of the law by allowing law enforcement agencies to summon collaborators or demand financial documents from them and by providing the authorities with easy access to financial records or tax payment information on defaulters. The “Chun Doo Hwan Law,” which was confined to civil servants, can be applied to normal people too.

The government had a lot of trouble collecting delinquent taxes or fines from former chairmen of large business groups due to their boldly uncooperative attitudes. That’s one of the reasons why we have such a shameful dictum in Korea: “Even if big companies perish, the owners prosper.” An exemplary case is Kim Woo-choong, former chairman of Daewoo Group - once the No. 3 chaebol in Korea - who has yet to pay a whopping 17.9 trillion won ($16.02 billion) in taxes in arrears. We don’t oppose the revision because the law should be fairly applied to everyone.

But the government also needs to listen to worries over the possibility that a reinforced execution of the law could lead to an infringement on human rights. If the prosecution happens to discover suspicious crimes as it is tracing tax evaders’ accumulation of wealth, it could use the new crimes as a means to pressure them into paying their taxes.

Another controversy concerns whether it is right to apply the stricter standards even when the government has already started the collection procedure. Of course, law enforcement agencies are obligated to dig up any dirty profits from criminal activities. At the same time, however, worries over an excessive execution of the law must be fully addressed in the legal deliberations at the National Assembly.

The end does not always justify the means, after all. And that goes for tax and fine delinquents as well.

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