Rooting out railway corruption

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Rooting out railway corruption

An investigation into collusion and corruption in the rail industry could turn into a major political scandal. Public eyes are on prosecutors at a time when chronic and sleazy public-private ties are being blamed for their contribution to the Sewol ferry’s sinking in April.

The investigation into corruption in public railway deals has taken a new direction after Kim Kwang-jae, a former president of the Korea Rail Network Authority who was accused of taking bribes in return for awarding deals to parts suppliers, committed suicide last week.

The prosecution has arrested Kwon Young-mo, senior deputy spokesman of the ruling Saenuri Party. Kwon confessed to handing over 40 million won ($39,565) from the chairman of AVT, a railroad parts manufacturer, to the head of the state railway authority in order to give the company exclusive rights to supply key parts. Prosecutors suspect Kwon, who was a legal consultant to AVT, of acting as a lobbyist for the company. They have now expanded the scope of the investigation to other politicians.

AVT’s chief executive has been questioned on suspicion of paying to get his company the Honam High-speed Rail Line construction deal in 2012. The prosecution received a tip in Kim’s suicide note, in which he said he was led astray after giving into the devil’s sweet temptation through politics.

The former railroad head could have been pressured to exercise favors for AVT from politicians fattened with bribes. Kim Hyung-sik, a member of the Seoul Metropolitan Council, accused of abetting in the murder of a wealthy businessman, is also suspected of taking payoffs from the AVT chairman. And more politicians could have received dirty money from AVT through the councilman and party spokesman.

Anyone accused of influence peddling must stand before the court. Hundreds of students and other lives were lost because of deep-seated collusion and corruption between business and politics. All dubious ties that could jeopardize public safety and undermine social order must be severed and uprooted so that we can prevent the recurrence of manmade calamities.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 7, Page 34

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