Companies must come forward

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Companies must come forward

The unprecedented influence-peddling scandal revolving around the president’s longtime friend Choi Soon-sil has spilled over to key conglomerates accused of making handsome donations to suspicious nonprofit organizations created by Choi. Samsung Electronics’ headquarters in Seoul had been raided by prosecutors. Other major conglomerates would be next.

Prosecutors are out to investigate 53 companies that handed over donations to Mi-R and K-Sports which amassed 77.4 billion won ($67 million) within days of their launch. Prosecutors plan to summon the corporate owners if the companies do not fully cooperate with the investigation.

Given the mood, the prosecution is not bluffing. It has nothing to fear now that it can even question the president. Prosecutors are considering slapping additional bribery charges on Choi and former senior presidential secretary An Chong-bum. If the receivers are accused, the givers too cannot avoid similar charges. Companies maintain they were strong-armed to cough out the donations, but their story cannot be entirely trusted. They would have expected and been promised of some kind of returns when handing out the money.

Companies, therefore, must willingly cooperate with the investigation. The people partly understand the difficulties of doing business under an outdated political system where the president wields almighty power. They had been forced to make secret campaign donations during election season and also regularly provide various favors to the people in power to keep up their businesses.

The momentum could pose as both an opportunity and crisis for companies. They must come forward honestly if they finally want to be free of the pressure of being under political influence and demands. The heads of seven companies that had privately met with Park before the establishment of two foundations should confess to the prosecution.

How did the country’s top companies end up handing over millions of dollars to a ringleader of a cult group? They made themselves victims because they kept silence even when a corporate founding family member was kicked out from management for irking the president. They would gain public sympathy if they show sincere efforts to cut the dirty chain between politics and business.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 9, Page 30

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