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How Would you Like a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” with that Luxury Option Package?

As most of you know, Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo was found guilty last year of fraud, embezzlement and running a slush fund, but stayed out of jail with a three-year suspended sentence and a photo-op at an orphanage. SK Telecom chief Chey Tae-won had his three-year sentence for fraud suspended. Hanwha boss Kim Seung-youn, served a brief jail term for beating up bar workers, but also had his sentence suspended.

Per today’s Reuters, the aforementioned “former” criminals have all been issued pardons by the “Justice” Ministry. The pardons, were of course, signed by LMB as part of the 341,000 other pardons to be issued on Liberation Day for this coming Friday.

UPDATE: Nice article in the dependable Asia Times expanding on the initial press releases.  Business lobbying groups are lauding it, but business analysts and economists are not.

“The Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the special pardon will also help to boost transparent corporate governance and ethical management.”

Yeah right.  Besides being an outright lie, the above comment has got to be the worse attempt at doublethink ever.

Nevertheless, the decision was criticized elsewhere as likely to increase foreign investors’ perception that business in Korea was inequitable for non-Koreans while supporting the view that chaebol, family-run corporations with strong government ties, increased corruption and worked to the disadvantage of minority shareholders.

“The pardons demonstrate to foreign investors that there is no level playing field in Korea,” Bloomberg News quoted Kim Tae-dong, an economics professor at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and former monetary policy maker, as saying. “In order to do business here, you have to join hands with a chaebol, which is no different from the state of affairs before the Asian financial crisis.”

Leave it to the academic to tell it like it really is.

A nation’s path to economic and political development is a long and difficult one.  There are big triumphs and colossal mistakes.  Chalk this one up in the huge mistake column.

  • globalvillageidiot

    What’s the excuse for the pardons this time? The regular Liberation Day variety or are these ones to celebrate Korea’s current Olympic success?

    It really doesn’t matter who’s in power here when it comes to this kind of crookery. Left or right. Young or old. Gyeonggi, Jeolla or Gyeongsan roots. Corruption takes the gold every single time. This carny game is fundamentally rigged.

  • Opus

    Will I get my Pardon for traffic violations?

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    I don’t know Opus… are you related to Chaebol royalty?

  • http://www.korealawblog.com Brendon Carr (Korea Law Blog)

    From a rule of law standpoint, Lee Myung-bak is off to a shameful beginning. But I’m sure he’ll be able to top this somehow.

  • Austin

    Does anyone know the answer to this one?
    Do foreigners ever get pardoned, or is the club exclusively Korean?

  • MigukNamja

    Shocking, absolutely shocking…

    …if a chaebol boss were actually to be punished rather than be put through the usual show of “punishment”.

    It’s not without reason that the Korean left despises the well-off and well-connected and has grudges against those living in Gangnam and/or having graduated from SKY. The elite in this country definitely have a different set of rules than the non-elite.

    To add to the FT piece on what Korea needs to do to climb further in the ranks of OECD nations, I’ll add “impartial and consistent justice system”.

    That will go a long, long way towards cleaning up corruption and making the playing field more level. But, far easier said than done.

  • user-81

    “Do foreigners ever get pardoned, or is the club exclusively Korean?”

    Foreigners get pardoned. Here’s one case:

    http://usacrime.or.kr/Eng/JoJP.htm

  • Anton

    I have always wondered why the chaebol bosses go through the trouble and elaborate charade of collapsing and feigning illness when the prosecutors show up on the doorstep since they know they will just be let off the hook.

  • http://www.jdlink.co.kr Linkd

    The pardon also … erased punitive actions taken against 328,000 bureaucrats

    In other words, corruption remains legal.

  • Sperwer

    “Do foreigners ever get pardoned, or is the club exclusively Korean?”

    Foreigners get pardoned. Here’s one case:

    http://usacrime.or.kr/Eng/JoJP.htm

    I’m having a hard time figuring out from the referenced article what crime Petterson committed besides being friends with the Korean who single-handedly assaulted, stabbed and killed the victim – allegedly, since he was acquitted on appeal for lack of proof of the murder.

  • Billy

    “But I made the decision because of the fact that the executives are having problems doing business overseas and that investor sentiment is hardly robust.”

    perhaps because of a lack of faith in their professional and ethical abilities to simply do their jobs properly in regards to both the former and the latter.

    (c’mon, pardoned for assaulting bar staff? What’s that going to look like to a foreign investor?)

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Questionable people have been pardoned by all kinds of presidents, not least of all Ford for Nixon.

    And these:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_pardoned_by_Bill_Clinton

    Most noticeably Bill’s brother, his coke snorting friends and Bill’s Whitewater business associates.

    However, pardoning people who have suspended jail sentences and without a pardon would still have never spent any jail time is just wrong. It sends entirely the wrong message to big business that operate above the law and is a step back for Korea’s development. Furthermore, when news of this is fully disseminated in Korean society what does it tell them? That it’s okay to break the law if you are “vital to the nation’s economy?” This will be looked upon very negatively by other nations (and financial organizations who lend to Korea) who take corporate governance seriously. LMB is beginning to strike me as a “business as usual” right winger instead of someone that will change Korea for the better.

    I think it’s going to take someone who was born in the 70′s and didn’t grow up while Korea was a corrupt third world country in order for a leader to have the right mindset (and less historical mental baggage) to institute real change in Korea.

  • user-81

    “I’m having a hard time figuring out from the referenced article what crime Petterson committed besides being friends with the Korean who single-handedly assaulted, stabbed and killed the victim – allegedly, since he was acquitted on appeal for lack of proof of the murder.”

    I’ll admit that was not the best link, but I couldn’t find one that described what he was convicted of. From memory I think he was convicted of disposing of evidence or something, a kind of accessory to the crime. If someone has a more objective link to the Cho murder (USA Crime is an anti-USFK site) I’d welcome it.

    The point, though, was that Patterson, a foreigner, was pardoned in one of these blanket holiday pardons, so it does happen so it’s not an “exclusively Korean club”. And his being released IIRC screwed up prosecution of the other guy.

  • Austin

    Ok, so the system seems to work like this:

    1. Person commits a crime.
    2. Police actually catch person committing crime.
    3. At Court case person who commited crime is found guilty BUT, usually goes home.
    4. Person who is found guilty but doesn’t go home, is allowed to go home later by the President.
    5. Person who goes home continues to commit more crimes.

    I’m no fiscal genius but since the employment of police, judges, prosecutors, etc achieves ZERO, wouldn’t the government save a lot of money by leaving the criminals alone (which they do eventually), and just get rid of the police, judges and prosecutors.
    If the said criminals are good for the Korean economy, then in fact should not their activities be encouraged.
    In fact extending the ‘logic’ of Korean Judges even further. The key to a stronger economy is in fact to have more criminals.
    This however does not apply to Foreigners who do private English lessons.

  • user-81

    “I’m no fiscal genius but since the employment of police, judges, prosecutors, etc achieves ZERO, wouldn’t the government save a lot of money by leaving the criminals alone (which they do eventually), and just get rid of the police, judges and prosecutors.”

    The inconvenience of getting arrested and paying fines and all that is deterrent enough for most Koreans. The system has plenty of flaws, but at least Korea doesn’t imprison 1% of its population at any given time to achieve relative public safety.

  • http://sungnyemun.org/wordpress/ dda

    at least Korea doesn’t imprison 1% of its population

    Maybe that’s part of the problem, too…

  • MigukNamja

    Re: 15

    “The system has plenty of flaws, but at least Korea doesn’t imprison 1% of its population at any given time to achieve relative public safety.”

    The bulk of people in prison in the U.S. were put there for drug use or simple possession. The vast majority of those people did not pose any more of a treat to public safety than the average person. For instance, what’s the difference between smoking pot and drinking heavily ?

    One’s legal and one’s not, but that’s about it.

    Ergo, ensuring public safety certainly does not require a prison population nearly as high as the U.S..

    For the record – no – I don’t smoke pot and don’t condone it, either. I also don’t condone heavy drinking. But, making either one illegal is counter-productive.

  • Sperwer

    Questionable people have been pardoned by all kinds of presidents

    True, but beside the point that, as you later seem to acknowledge, is that while such pardons are exceptional elsewhere they are “business as usual” in Korea, and extend to thousands of malefactors – not just a few knuckleheads – regardless whether the right, left or center is in power.

  • http://www.korealawblog.com Brendon Carr (Korea Law Blog)

    …[W]hile such pardons are exceptional elsewhere they are “business as usual” in Korea, and extend to thousands of malefactors…

    Actually, Sperwer, it’s hundreds of thousands of malefactors. Part of that is of course the ubiquity of crookery in Korea, but part also is explained by a hyperactive state and legal system that makes every damn thing a crime. The whole thing stinks.

    Just imagine if George Bush handed out 2.5 million pardons every year, including Eliot Spitzer, Dennis Kozlowski, Bill Lerach, and hundreds of thousands of bent civil servants like this guy.

  • Sperwer

    Thanks, Brendon, but I’ve taken to treading lightly on WangKon’s tender sensibilities when it comes to pointing out the impertinence of the de riguer attempted comparative rationalization of the peculiarities of Korea.

  • Craig

    We all know the “rule of law” is only applicable to foreigners. Sometimes the unweathly locals are imposed, but the ruling wankers of Corea, certainly are not!

  • Tripod

    #19,

    Yeah, and how can one expect the population to respect the rule of law when for many years laws were written, passed, and reinforced by corrupt individuals?

    Many of us long time residents still remember bars locking the doors at curfew…Not really because what risked being fined for selling alcohol after midnight but because the cops would drop by looking for a bribe if the doors weren’t locked. Police corruption was so common in the 90′s that it was the butt of many jokes. My friends would joke that they wanted to be drafted as traffic cops instead of soldiers because they could ‘earn’ a lot of money that way. Heck, a comedy staring two top Koreans stars at the time centered around two out of work actors who impersonated cops so they could get bribes.

  • Kalani

    After Lee backed off on the businessman and politico pardons on his 100-day period, I thought there may be hope for the “get-out-of-jail-free” society.

    I was wrong. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    # 20,

    I’m not rationalizing what Korea’s Justice Ministry and LMB has done. I think it’s horrendous. This can only be viewed by outsiders as proof positive that Korean democracy and the Korean economy are squarely in the “developing” camp.

    However, my belief has always been that blanket condemnation without looking at context from other countries that have gone through the arduous journey of development (some over a period of hundreds of years) is hypocritical as well as counterproductive. Every nation has skeletons in the closet… and citizens from those nations should be mindful of that before they speak with self-righteous god-like condescension towards another nation.

    I am not offering an excuse. In my mind, what LMB has done is inexcuseable. It’s as if LMB has pulled the clock back to 1975…

  • andy-in-japan

    Does the LoneStar staff all get a pass from LMB?

  • R. Elgin

    Han-nara will take the blame for this and it will come back to haunt them, I predict.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    @ 25,

    They didn’t do anything wrong in the first place, which is why they were correctly (but a very much delayed decision) acquitted of the original charges.

    http://news.aol.co.uk/s-korea-overturns-lone-star-verdict/article/20080624024809990004

  • Netizen Kim

    Suspending the jail sentences of these white-collar criminals stinks in principle. If they are sent to jail, it’ll be some Korean equivalent of “Club Fed”. Tax payers money is used to keep these men in prison when they could be out running the engines of the economy.

    “Do foreigners ever get pardoned, or is the club exclusively Korean?”

    No, they simply get deported. An illegal Mexican picking tomatoes in the US provides more value to the US economy than a basket-weaving degree’d engrish teacha does for the Korean economy.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    NK… you are trying to put shit in a silk stocking… no matter how you dress it… it still stinks.

  • Pawi’s conscience

    An illegal Mexican picking tomatoes in the US provides more value to the US economy than a basket-weaving degree’d engrish teacha does for the Korean economy.

    Netizen Kim, really? Don’t make me come after you.

  • PardonMe

    A few points:

    1. There’s no “club fed” in Korea, AFAIK, for white-collar criminals. There are lower-security prisons, but they’re still the concrete-and-bars variety — not much heating or air conditioning, and visits limited to an hour or so a week, with a guard watching.

    2. I don’t want to be seen as defending the pardons “system”, but my impression is that it’s more of a “prisoner exchange” between the ruling party and opposition, rather than an exemption from prosecution only for the ruling party. Roh pardoned plenty of GNP prisoners during his admin, and I suspect there must be horse-trading going on at some level.

    3. Sentences for political or corruption crimes can be unrealistically long (5-10 years, whereas 6-12 months seems to be the norm in the US). This may be compensation for a poor arrest rate, or in anticipation of #2 above.

    4. The judiciary is corrupt too, so the pardons and pardon-trading may be a check on their power.

    Again, I’m not defending this system, but these are my impressions of how Korean justice practices have evolved.

  • Sweet Dee

    Context.

    43 presidents over 219 years in America: 28,000+ pardons.

    LMB in 7 months: 3.1 million+ pardons.

    If you’re going to make a large stink about the importance of context, it would behoove you to make an honest attempt at not only providing context, but providing accurate and relevant context.

  • JohnT

    What do illegal, non enlishee speaking Koreans do for American society?

    Better yet, what do hypocritical, draft dodging, gyopos do for any society?

    I say keep it up Korea, keep showing the world how “transparent” you really aren’t.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Draft dodger? Only if a Gyopo came to the states when he was 18 or older… other then that… if his parents brought him, what choice in the matter did he ever have?

  • bumfromkorea

    I know I wanted to dodge draft when I moved to U.S. in 5th grade. Oh man, did I ever dodge that bullet (ha! get it?!).

    My 2nd generation Korean friends tell me that all the time. When their consciousness were separated in their father’s sperm and mother’s egg, they thought ‘Hey, you know what? Fuck military service. Let’s move to America!’

  • Zonath

    Just curious, but does South Korea require a citizen below the age of majority to renounce citizenship on his or her own behalf, or allow parents to do that for them?

  • globalvillageidiot

    “Better yet, what do hypocritical, draft dodging, gyopos do for any society?”

    Better yet, what does this supposed group of draft dodgers have to do with Korean corporate crooks living above the law?

  • globalvillageidiot

    “Just curious, but does South Korea require a citizen below the age of majority to renounce citizenship on his or her own behalf, or allow parents to do that for them?”

    Good question. Something my wife and I have to look into in around twelve or thirteen years so my son can dodge the draft. (And, as many have done before him, flee to Canada!)

    It might have to involve the parents taking a child off the family registry, among other things. (I knew a Korean-Canadian who was looking at military service here for a while because of such a technicality. He was never even a Korean citizen.)

  • MigukNamja

    …and yet another thread devolves into a gyopo / whitey bash-fest.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Vision of Mad Max and Blaster in Thunderdome are flashing through my head…

  • abcdefg

    JohnT just reserved a special spot on the idiot list with that one.

  • http://www.jdlink.co.kr Linkd

    No shit. John, that was 7am, buddy. Do you really wake up in the morning feeling that bad?

  • Inkevitch

    GVI, I assume that you are not of Korean descent? A few years ago they passed a law making it possible but not compulsory for children of mixed heritage to joined the armed forces. Before that it was not allowed. Who knows in thirteen years though. But I get the feeling you were being facetious.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936
  • Tripod

    #32,33,

    Unless they’ve changed the law recently, age has nothing to do with it. Again, don’t know if this is current information but it used to be that unless you’ve officially renounced your Korean citizenship, you are considered draft dodgers…although you need not worry if one of your parents isn’t Korean (multi-ethnic Koreans are the only ones who are given the choice to serve or not). I’d recommend you look into it before your next trip to South Korea.

  • user-81

    “No shit. John, that was 7am, buddy. Do you really wake up in the morning feeling that bad?”

    Give him a break. He just got done with two hours of business English classes at the hagwon. ;)

  • globalvillageidiot

    “GVI, I assume that you are not of Korean descent? A few years ago they passed a law making it possible but not compulsory for children of mixed heritage to joined the armed forces. Before that it was not allowed. Who knows in thirteen years though. But I get the feeling you were being facetious.”

    Not entirely facetious. I’m not of Korean descent, but as you can probably figure out, my wife is. My son has dual citizenship. While I assume he’ll likely renounce his Korean citizenship when the Korean government forces him to pick one or the other – though that might also change before 2020 – the choice is ultimately his.

    The most important thing here is for parents to be as up to date as possible when it comes to this kind of thing. A lost document or failure to fill out a form could potentially have serious consequences for the child.

  • Fan Death Avenger

    Netizen Kim,
    ” “Do foreigners ever get pardoned, or is the club exclusively Korean?”

    No, they simply get deported.”

    Not necessarily. Depends entirely on the crime committed. Immigration scofflaws get deported but other crimes, for the most part, are not.

    Plenty of foreigners are cooling their heels in Korean jails and prisons. There are two foreigner-only jails that I know of.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936
  • R. Elgin

    Per a Chosun Ilbo editorial on this subject:

    . . . and that is why the pardoned businessmen must not forget why they were pardoned: to revive the economy, not because the government has decided to excuse their crimes. The president has called on them to save the economy and to create jobs.

    This writer is so wrong that he must have been under the influence of either drugs or lots of money to write this nonsense. It is simply unbelievable.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    The Economist has weighted in and has said the following:

    President Lee came to power earlier this year pledging to raise average national income per head to $40,000 a year and to achieve 7% annual economic growth. He has appealed to chaebol leaders to boost investment and jobs. But at his inauguration Mr Lee also promised to back “business leaders who are transparent and put in an honest day’s work”. So the pardons for the three chaebol bosses look a bit odd. Many South Koreans see them as proof that the wealthy are held to different standards from those applied to ordinary citizens….

    … Mr Lee’s ruling party. The president’s approval rating hovers around 20%. Pardoning business bigwigs will not help it rise.

    If this is what the Economist is saying, then that’s what foreign financial markets are thinking about Korea. This is a huge economic (and political) step backwards… huge.

  • Ex aedibus

    It is a huge mistake. South Korea is a nation in which the rule of law is something that has not been achieved. Pardoning these miscreants won’t help, either.

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