Rooting out shady connections

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Rooting out shady connections

Controversy over a bag stuffed with cash taken from the car of an incumbent ruling party lawmaker has taken a new turn, highlighting potential shady connections between politicians and the shipping industry. Saenuri Party Representative Park Sang-eun, who represents two Incheon districts, reported to the police that a pile of cash worth 20 million won ($19,640) and important documents were stolen from his car, naming his driver as the key suspect.

But it was later discovered that his driver had reported the money to the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office, accusing his boss of taking bribes in exchange for favors and influence. The authenticity of the lawmaker’s claim was questioned after the amount turned out to be 30 million won, and not the 20 million won Park initially reported. Prosecutors also discovered stacks of foreign currencies amounting to 600 million won during a raid at his son’s house.

Park claims he took out the money to go toward administrative expenses for his office. But financial authorities confirmed there had not been financial records of such a withdrawal. The money discovered in his son’s house were reported to be funds that were taken out from the safe of an organization Park headed. Where the money came from and what its intended use was remains unclear.

Park represents east, central districts and Wongjin county in Incheon, which plays host to a handful of shipping companies, including Chonghaejin Marine, which operated the sunken Sewol ferry, and various shipping associations and lobby groups charged with collusion and lax oversight. Authorities believe relaxed safety regulations contributed to the ferry tragedy.

Park has been active in a legislative study group on maritime affairs. He went on luxury cruise trips sponsored by the Korean Register of Shipping. The money in his car and son’s house must be investigated as to whether it is part of a black money channel within the shipping industry.

Prosecutors plan to summon Park for questioning soon. But the investigation must not stop with Park and his family. They must be able to clarify whether black shipping money reached the officialdom as well as political sector. The incident must serve as a tipping point to root out shady business and political connections once and for all.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 19, Page 30

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