Familiar form of collusionEight heads of Korean conglomerates appear today as witness at a hearing in the National Assembly over their potential involvement in the Choi Soon-sil scandal. We are witnessing this strange turn of events for the first time since the 1988 hearing on suspicious donations from local business tycoons to help establish the controversial Ilhae Foundation under the Chun Doo Hwan administration.
In the case of large-scale slush fund scandals in the Chun government and the following Roh Tae-woo administration, eight heads of chaebol pledged to end their deep-rooted practice of handing secret money to the head of state in the name of “political funds needed to govern the nation.” Ordinary citizens feel a strong sense of betrayal at the repeat of such a practice despite their vow to stop it after they were convicted of criminal charges.
Business circles underscore that they, too, are victims as they could not refuse a presidential demand for money at a face-to-face meeting. In the massive candle-lit vigils, however, we saw slogans like “Chaebol are accomplices!” as often as slogans calling for the immediate retreat of President Park Geun-hye from government.
The people believe that chaebol donate illegal money to a president to seek favors in their business. For instance, they suspect that Samsung gave money to settle disputes over an important merger, SK and CJ wanted pardons for their chairmen’s violations of the law, and SK and Lotte needed to regain their licenses to run duty free shops. The opposition Minjoo Party of Korea criticizes their victim mentality when ordinary people’s lives are getting tougher. People are expecting sincere contrition and self-reflection from chaebol heads in today’s session. Even if the tycoons manage to escape lawmakers’ questions through sly rhetoric, they will suffer critical damage to their credibility if their statements prove untrue in the independent counsel probe.
Lawmakers must not create another ring of collusion with businessmen in which they denounce chaebol heads at the hearing while pressuring them to invest in their own constituencies. We urge them to hold the hearing based on solid logic and evidence — and with courtesy.
In a five-year, single-term presidency, those with power are particularly susceptible to temptations to force companies to donate money. Our conglomerates have repeatedly resorted to such means to avoid the government’s tax investigations and other probes. Unless we change this outmoded system, the collusion will continue.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 6, Page 30