Yoon pledges a pro-business environment despite past disputes
While prosecutor-turned-politician Yoon Suk-yeol vowed to make a push toward a market-oriented economy, public attention is on Yoon's previous run-ins with corporate leaders.
Heads of the three largest conglomerates in Korea — Samsung, Hyundai and SK — all had encounters with Yoon under rather unpleasant circumstances, during his time as a prosecutor.
Samsung Electronics’ Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, the grandson of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull, was put under custody by Yoon in 2017, on charges of bribery.
Then prosecutor Yoon led the probe on the corruption scandal of former President Park Geun-hye and Lee.
The de facto leader of Samsung Group was indicted for bribing Park during her presidency in return for political favors. The appeals court found Lee guilty of giving bribes in January 2021, and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison.
It was the first time in the company’s history that its leader was arrested.
The Samsung heir was released on parole in August 2021.
Yoon also put Chung Mong-koo, honorary chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, behind bars for embezzlement and breach of fiduciary duty in 2007 when Yoon was working at the Goyang branch of Uijeongbu District Prosecutors’ Office, Gyeonggi.
Chung was sentenced to a three-year jail term, but was granted probation of five years in an appeals trial a year later.
SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won was confronted by Yoon in 2012, when Chey was charged in an embezzlement and slush fund case. Yoon oversaw the indictment as the chief prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.
The chairman of Korea’s third-largest conglomerate was immediately detained after the court sentenced him to four years in prison.
“From what I heard, Yoon is well-informed about companies and the top executives because he led a number of investigations on them during his time as the prosecutor,” said an anonymous source in the private sector, according to JoongAng Ilbo.
The person added that “companies will stay be wary of Yoon” when he takes office in May.
Yoon, however, pledged to build a pro-business environment, emphasizing that private initiative is the key to economic growth.
The president-elect highlighted the private sector’s role in creating jobs, and promised to “ease regulations and reduce taxation on companies that bring factories overseas back to Korea” during a campaign event in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, on March 6.
In a March 10 speech after his victory, Yoon also declared to “create jobs by a transition toward the private sector-driven economy, not a government-led one.”
“Politicians usually get acquainted with business people through both official and unofficial channels,” said an anonymous businessman, “but Yoon is known to have little to no acquaintances in the private sector, since he just entered politics and had led quite a lot of probes into corporate leaders before.”
However, the businessman believed the new government will take a pro-business approach in its economic policy compared to the previous administration.
“Yoon prefers conservatism and a free-market economy, reading Milton Friedman’s publications from when he was young, due to influence from his father who was a Yonsei University professor,” said the businessman, adding that he “expects Yoon to meet and have a conversation with business people in due time.”
BY BAEK IL-HYUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]