Turning over the rock

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Turning over the rock

Ordinary people are appalled at the revelations by nine chaebol heads at Tuesday’s hearing in the National Assembly over the unprecedented abuse of power scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. Their testimonies have again confirmed President Park’s improper role in offering financial support to the suspicious Mi-R and K-Sports foundations led by her confidante Choi. The leaders of conglomerates testified that Park asked them to financially back the two foundations through separate in-person meetings.

The president’s act of pressuring business tycoons to give donations to the ill-conceived foundations “for the sake of sports promotion” clearly violates the law. Park says she did it with good intentions, but business leaders felt it was pressure. Park must learn a lesson from U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump, who even makes public his daily conversations with business leaders on Twitter.

Park turned out to have intervened in the private sector as well. CJ Group Vice-chairman Sohn Kyung-shik testified that she had demanded the resignation of former vice-chair Lee Mie-kyung through her senior secretary for economic affairs in 2013. Park must answer that. As such news spreads across the world quickly, trust in Korea Inc. is being shattered. The news will surely hurt the activities of Korean companies overseas.

But the hearing stopped way short of finding the truth behind the endlessly evolving scandal. Despite business tycoons’ very vocal expressions of contrition for what they did, they did not admit to expecting business favors in return for their contributions to the foundations.

A bigger problem is that lawmakers were unable to present concrete evidence of the Choi clan profiteering from their shady deals. Some legislators’ contention that the Blue House pressured the National Pension Service to support the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries could not be confirmed, and was denied by Samsung’s Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong. A few lawmakers were bent on attacking those tycoons in an indecent manner.

Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope. Many of the witnesses in the hearing, including of Samsung’s Lee, expressed an intention to quit the Korea Federation of Industries, which played a central role in the foundations’ formations. Also, Samsung announced that it will abolish its prestigious Future Planning Office to work on a more transparent management culture.

Chabol heads should be born again. The independent counsel’s role also got bigger. Choi, Park’s former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and civil affairs secretary Woo Byung-woo are refusing to testify before the National Assembly. All remaining suspicions must be cleared up by the special prosecutor.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 7, Page 30
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