State Dept. report wags finger at Korea for corruption
The U.S. State Department criticized South Korea for having high levels of corruption.
In its 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published Tuesday, it said that South Korean “officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity" and "there were numerous reports of government corruption at all levels.”
The strong language used to describe corruption in Korea was not used to describe countries with similar levels of development such as Japan or Taiwan.
In the country report on Japan, the government corruption section stated that “there are cases of corruption among bureaucrats,” while the report on Taiwan stated that “there was corruption among public officials.” The reports on Australia and France said “there are individual reports of government corruption.”
The report cited the investigation into land purchases using inside information by employees of the Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH), the housing site development corruption case in Daejang-dong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, and misbehavior by former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his wife Chung Kyung-shim as examples of corruption in Korea.
In the case of the LH Corporation, the report detailed that a civic group raised suspicions of speculative land purchases by executives and employees last March.
“Dozens of current and former corporation employees allegedly used insider knowledge to purchase land slated for future government real estate development projects under President Moon’s '2.4 Supply Plan,' designed to curb a sharp rise in real estate prices,” the report said.
The outcome of the case, in which two corporation officials committed suicide, 34 people were arrested and 529 were referred to the prosecution for indictments as of last August, was highlighted in the report.
The Daejang-dong case was cited as a serious case of corruption.
“Evidence obtained by prosecutors alleges that an asset management firm with a 1 percent stake in the project, Hwacheon Daeyu, colluded with city officials and bribed politicians to secure an advantageous position in the profit distribution mechanism for it and its affiliates,” the report said. “Hwacheon Daeyu and its affiliates reportedly made a profit of more than 1,000 times their initial investment.”
The United States views corruption by a government as a violation of the rights of its citizens, which makes it an important topic in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
The report also highlighted restriction of freedom of expression as a major human rights issue in South Korea.
A withdrawn amendment to the Press Arbitration Act, which caused controversy over punitive damages, was cited.
“The ruling Democratic Party sought to pass controversial amendments to the Press Arbitration Act that would allow victims of reporting found to be false or fabricated to seek punitive damages from media organizations and online intermediaries,” the report said. “Media organizations among others opposed the bill, saying it would further restrict the press’ ability to operate freely.”
The report stated that the government and public figures used the existing Defamation Act to restrict public discussion, and to harass and censor private and media outlets.
An amendment to the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act, which bans anti-North Korea leaflets, was also cited.
The report said the South Korean government’s rationale for this amendment was to protect the lives of residents in border areas. It cited claims by human rights activists and opposition parties that the amendment was a violation of freedom of expression.
The U.S. State Department publishes the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices annually. This is the second report under the Joe Biden administration.
BY PARK HYUN-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]