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Category: South Korean Politics (page 2 of 49)

Samsung Versus the Ants & the Jews – A Never-ending Saga of Korean Shizz-biz

Greece is not the only suspenseful yes-or-no vote that has been on everyone’s minds as of late.

Samsung is having one heck of a knock-down shareholders fight. This Friday will be the day that Samsung C&T shareholders will vote on its future and “essentially the fate of the whole conglomerate and determine whether they approve its merger with Cheil Industries, the de facto holding company of Samsung Group.” (cite)

To summarize the situation:

Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest conglomerate made up of 67 companies, is controlled by the powerful Lee family via a complex web of cross-shareholding. Samsung C&T owns 4.06 percent of the group’s crown jewel, Samsung Electronics, with the value of its stake in the electronics giant standing at more than 7.6 trillion won ($6.7 billion) alone. Samsung Life Insurance controls 7.2 percent, while Cheil controls 19.3 percent of Samsung Life Insurance.
Last but not least, Jay Y. Lee owns 23 percent of Cheil, with his sisters Lee Boo-jin and Lee Seo-hyun controlling 7.7 percent each. Lee Kun-hee, the Samsung Group chairman, owns 3.4 percent.
Although Cheil has nothing to do with financial businesses on paper, it acts essentially like a financial holding company, controlling a significant stake in Samsung Life Insurance.
The merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil is certain to help the Lee family exert more influence over Samsung Electronics and is seen as a necessary step as the conglomerate prepares to make a generational change from the now-hospitalized Lee Kun-hee to his 47-year old son.

This is a very big deal, for example:

South Korea’s $422bn National Pension Service is poised to make one of the most high-pressure interventions in its 28-year history, with a vote that could swing the fate of a key merger in the Samsung group. . . The NPS holds big stakes in both companies — a situation that has highlighted the huge domestic clout of the world’s fifth-biggest pension fund, while heightening calls from activists for it to take a lead in defending South Korean corporate governance standards. . . The NPS is at the centre of the whole controversy — it’s created an awkward situation for them,” says Park Yoo-kyung, an investment adviser at the Dutch fund APG Asset Management, which holds a stake in Samsung C&T. . . Analysts say that this week’s vote is likely to be close and that the NPS — Samsung C&T’s biggest shareholder with 11.9 per cent — could decide the outcome. . . the NPS has courted controversy by making its decision in-house without turning to an advisory committee set up to assist with difficult voting decisions. That committee has shown willingness to oppose controversial management decisions, last month opposing a merger of two SK group companies citing similar objections to those made by Elliott in the Samsung case.

Line of marching ants with 11 different ant images

Samsung small investors are angry and are marching . . .

One shareholder, Elliott Associates LP (hedge fund), intensified its opposition to Samsung Group’s proposed merger of two units, a day before the U.S. hedge fund’s dispute with South Korea’s largest conglomerate went to court in Seoul. (cite) Elliot has also attracted the many small investors, referred to in South Korea as being “ants”, and have joined forces with Elliott.
According to Elliot, Cheil Industries Inc.’s offer to buy Samsung C&T Corp. is “unlawful” and creates “open-ended regulatory risks,” the fund headed by billionaire activist Paul Elliott Singer said in an online presentation on Thursday that laid out its case against the deal.
According to some analysts, this “showdown” between Samsung and Elliot Associates will shake up South Korea.

“Lawyers say the controversy will also prompt a rethink of the rules governing mergers between sister companies, which allowed the lowball offer in the first place. In any case, the backlash should make the chaebols less dismissive of outside shareholders.”

Meanwhile, South Korean media, in a typical demonstration of some of its totally irrational bias has managed to infuriate Jews:

jewish_bankerJewish organizations over the weekend denounced what they say are anti-Semitic statements in the South Korean media blaming Jews for attempts to block a corporate merger between two subsidiaries of the Samsung conglomerate. The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center have called upon the Asian country’s government and on Samsung to repudiate the claims, which have appeared in a number of business publications supportive of the deal.
The target of the opprobrium is Paul Singer, the Jewish head of the Elliot Associates hedge fund, which owns a seven percent stake in Samsung C&T, which seeks to merge with Chiel Industries.
According to South Korean financial publication MoneyToday, “Elliott is led by a Jew, Paul E. Singer, and ISS [an advisory firm that analyzed the merger] is an affiliate of Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI), whose key shareholders are Jewish. According to a source in the finance industry, Jews have a robust network demonstrating influence in a number of domains.”
Meanwhile, Mediapen, another local publication, asserted that Jews are known to wield enormous power on Wall Street and in global financial circles” and that it is a “well-known fact that the US government is swayed by Jewish capital.” (cite)

Per Mediapen: “Jewish money, it reported, “has long been known to be ruthless and merciless.”

Mind you, it would be irresponsible to note that South Korean media also has long been known to be unprofessional and racist, especially considering their important role in revealing the hordes of HIV/AIDS infested, foreigners and the ongoing foreigner-driven crime-wave. The JDL and others have to realize that Koreans actually admire Jewish thought since the Talmud has been transmogrified into Korean.

Flaming Flags

Seoul Metropolitan Police filed on May 31 for an arrest warrant against a 24-year old Korean man, identified only by his surname Kim, for flag desecration.  According to the Hankyoreh,  Kim “burned a piece of paper showing an image of the South Korean flag while facing off with police who had erected a vehicle barricade at a memorial demonstration for the first anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking.”

Kim is accused of setting fire to the paper showing the South Korean flag in front of the barricade of police buses after large sections of major roads around Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul were closed off during the Sewol memorial demonstration on April 18. After images of the scene appeared in the press and politicians began calling for harsh punishment, police spent 40 days tracking Kim’s activities before finally arresting him on May 29 at a park in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province.

…In requesting an arrest warrant, police also charged Kim with general traffic obstruction, failure to obey an order to disperse, and damage to public property (a police bus).

The most interesting charge pertains to Article 105 of the Criminal Act, Pofanation of the National Flag or Emblem:

A person who damages, removes or stains the national flag or the national emblem for the purpose of insulting the Republic of Korea shall be punished by imprisonment or imprisonment without prison labor for not more than five years, suspension of qualifications without prison labor for not more than five years, suspension of qualifications for no t more than 10 years, or a fine of not more than seven million won.

Article 105 specifically requires intent or “purpose of insulting the Republic of Korea” for the charge of flag desecration.

According to the op. cited Hanky article, “during questioning by police, Kim said he ‘did not have the aim of desecrating the flag,’ adding that he set fire to it ‘spontaneously out of rage at the police’s unjust use of authority.’  Kim’s attorney, Jeong Min-yeong, said Kim ‘only set fire to the flag as an expression of protest at the police’s excessive suppression tactics. There was no other aim besides that.'”

Chief of the SMPA’s second investigation section Kim Geun-man said,”the purpose of his flag burning is still under investigation.  It has not been confirmed whether Mr. Kim is affiliated with any specific groups.”

An attorney with the group MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Park Ju-min commented “we should take a separate view when it comes to criticizing the government’s exercise of public authority, as opposed to insulting the state.”

For those who wonder “what constitutes a flag” and for comparison, U.S. code uses the term “flag of the United States” to mean “any flag of the United States, or any part thereof, made of any substance, of any size, in a form that is commonly displayed.”  In short, that Kim burned a paper picture of a Korean flag is likely a non-starter as a principle of defense.

U.S. law also has provisions for criminal prosecution of U.S. flag desecration:

§700. Desecration of the flag of the United States; penalties
(a)(1) Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

U.S. code considers flag desecration damaging the U.S. flag for clothing material or using the U.S. flag for a beach blanket.  I found nothing in Korea’s Criminal Act that criminalizes such uses.

Korea’s Criminal Act, Article 109 (Profanation of Foreign Flag or Foreign Emblem) also criminalizes damaging, removing, or staining a foreign national flag or emblem for the purposes of insulting a foreign country.  Article 110 requires, in effect, the consent of the foreign government concerned, which might explain the absence of criminal prosecutions when Koreans burn U.S. flags in protest.

The key difference is that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that flag desecration as a form of political protest, even against the United States, is protected speech.

I do not want to make spectator sport of another man’s life, but I hope Kim is forced to mount a constitutional challenge based on political speech.  Korea’s Constitutional Court has made some head scratching rulings regarding political speech in Korea, and the Constitutional Court’s prior rulings paint itself into a corner.

UPDATE:  Arrest warrant rejected for protester who burned national flag

A local court refused to issue an arrest warrant Tuesday for a protestor accused of burning taegeukgi, the Korean national flag, during a rally in April after concluding that the incident as an impulsive act

…Seoul Central District Court said, “It seems that Kim was stirred up, inflicting an injury on himself on the arm during the rally, and burned the flag impulsively and unpremeditatedly.”

It said that the prosecution would be able to investigate Kim without arresting him, considering that he did not commit the crime systematically or with other accomplices, that he has reflected on his acts and that he has no previous criminal record.

Seeking the warrant prompted criticism of the police and the prosecution, because it is unusual to do so for burning a taegeukgi.

There have been many incidents during which protestors, conservative and progressive, have burned the national flag during rallies. But such people have usually not faced indictment, as the law states only those who damage the national flag “with intention to defame the country” are subject to punishment.


United Nations to ROK: Testing Foreigners for AIDS to check ‘values and morality’ Is Discrimination

UNHRSeveral years back, an English teacher refused to take a second test for AIDS because she believed the testing was “discriminatory and an affront to her dignity” and was refused a contract renewal by the city of Ulsan. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination took up the case and has decided that this is discrimination against foriengers and that they teacher should be compensated for lost revenue by the South Korean Government.

One article states that:

South Korean nationals in equivalent jobs were not required to do so (be tested for AIDS).
South Korea has said it scrapped the HIV/AIDS tests for expatriate teachers in 2010 (they knew it was discriminatory). The Geneva-based Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said the HIV/AIDS test “does not appear to be justified on public health grounds or any other ground and is a breach of the right to work without distinction to race, colour, national or ethnic origin”.
It called on South Korea to grant Ms Griffin “adequate compensation for the moral and material damages she suffered”.
It also said South Korea should “counter any manifestations of xenophobia, through stereotyping or stigmatising, of foreigners by public officials, the media and the public at large”, and gave the country 90 days to inform the committee of the steps it has taken. (cite)

This much delayed vindication should also be a reminder of just how low politicians (like Lee Ju-yeong or Kim Han-gil) can get in their pursuit of bad ideas (cite).

Much thanks to Professor Benjamin Wagner for news of this recent development.

Strange Denials

Prosecutors will question South Gyeongsang Province Govenor Hong Joon-pyo Friday at 10 a.m. over allegations that he received 100 million won from late Keangnam chairman Sung Woan-jong in 2011.  Sung named Hong and the amount in a note found in Sung’s shirt pocket on Sung’s dead body the day Sung committed suicide.  Hong is the first of the eight fingered in Sung’s note to be questioned by the prosecution.

Hong is a former prosecutor who launched a political career in the 2000’s after prosecuting many high-profile corruption cases in the 1980’s – 1990’s.  Friday he will face questioning from his former “junior prosecutors“:

The prosecution decided to call in Hong after the authorities obtained testimony from Yoon Seong-mo, the former vice president of Keangnam Enterprises, who claimed that he was the one who carried the political funds to the former four-term lawmaker four years ago. Hong was then running for chairman of the Grand National Party, the precursor to the ruling Saenuri Party.

…The prosecution appears confident about the case as authorities have also interrogated Hong’s aide to cross-check Yoon’s testimony. For the prosecution, the outcome of summoning Hong is crucial as they are also tasked to reveal the truth behind the scandal that involves President Park Geun-hye’s close confidants including former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo and incumbent Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee.

“Pundits said it would not be easy to bring the ex-prosecutor to court as he knows the process well.”

Hong seems to have taken the aforementioned former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo’s and PGH’s incumbent Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee’s tactic of spinning the press with strange denials.  According to the Korea Herald,

The governor tried to water down the claim, raising fresh speculation that Yoon has been making inconsistent testimonies. Hong claimed Yoon’s memory was not accurate because he delivered Sung’s money to many politicians.

That not only doesn’t make me think he’s innocent but also makes me wonder how he knows Yoon “delivered Sung’s money to many politicians”?  I can only hope that prosecutors press Hong to elaborate.

Hong’s denial follows Lee Wan-koo’s threat (?) of suicide (!), Lee Byung-kee’s vow to quit immediately if any of the bribery allegations against him are proven to be true (duh), and my personal favorite, PGH’s first Chief of Staff Huh Tae-yeol’s spit-take worthy  non-sequitur “‘such money trade is unimaginable’ as then-candidate Park stressed the need for a ‘clean primary’.”

There are more, but I’ve got to towel off my keyboard.

(Featured photo:  South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo. (Yonhap))


Another Saenuri Victory

So the most recent parliamentary election results are in and it appears that the Saenuri Party has defied expectations and won. Again.

Despite the fact that Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo resigned after serving for only two months; despite the fact Sung Wan-jong made his now infamous list of people before committing suicide; despite the fact that many have accused the government’s handling of the Sewol protests as excessive; despite the fact that a lot of buzz has been made about the timing of President Park Geun-hye’s South American trip; despite her plummeting  popularity – the Saenuri Party won three out of the four contested parliamentary voting districts. The one race that it didn’t win was in Gwangju – the NPAD’s stronghold. That seat was swept up by an independent lawmaker who had defected from the NPAD.

This election was supposed to have been an easy win for the NPAD – a symbolic “f-you” to the president. And it failed. Again.

It might be worthwhile to read Steven Denney’s article “What’s Wrong with South Korea’s Liberals?” again. Not to mention Joshua Stanton’s reply to Steven Denney’s question.

So what happens to Mr. Moon Jae-in now? As the NPAD’s chairman, he was supposed to direct the party’s political goals and objectives to help it make big gains in next year’s general election. On a more personal level, he was supposed to be the NPAD’s once and future king when he inevitably makes his second presidential bid.

Will Mr. Moon follow in the footsteps of Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil and resign from the party’s leadership after taking responsibility for the electoral loss? Or will he stay and attempt to duke it out with the left’s other rising star, Mayor Park Won-soon?

Either way, at least for now, the Saenuri Party seems unstoppable. Rather inexplicably.


EDIT: I guess it wasn’t that easy for the NPAD to have won.

Seoul Ed Superintendent likely expelled

…and in other corruption news….

The Seoul Central District Court convicted Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, of disseminating false information against his rival during last year’s election.  The Seoul Central District Court Wednesday fined Cho five million won (US$4,600) for spreading false rumors against his conservative rival Koh Seung-duk during the election campaign.

Under current election law, any fine for “running a smear campaign” in excess of one million won leads to an automatic nullification of one’s election.

Cho is appealing to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the Seoul District Court’s decision, Cho will forfeit his office and be made to return three billion won in campaign funds. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to be announced in one year.  (One year???)

Cho, the only liberal candidate and a former sociology professor, earned a surprise victory in the election for Seoul education chief last June, beating two favorites, including conservative rival Koh Seung-duk, a lawyer turned politician.

The Seoul District Court found that Cho disseminated false information about  Koh by claiming Koh was a permanent resident of the United States and used his permanent resident status to educate his two children in the U.S.  Koh publicly explained that he did not hold permanent U.S. residency and his children were U.S. citizens by birth.   The court found that Cho continued to accuse Koh with the allegations even after providing a valid explanation.

Cho is the third of four Seoul education superintendents and latest Seoul education superintendent to be convicted of violating Korea’s election laws.  In 2009, Gong Jeong-taek lost his post after the Supreme Court fined him 1.5 million won for receiving bribes to bankroll his election campaign.  In 2012, Kwak No-hyun lost his office after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction on charges of bribing Park Myoung-gee to withdraw from the 2010 election for the job.  The court sentenced Kwak to one year in jail and made him return 3.52 billion won he received as a refund for campaign costs.

What of our one beacon of hope?   “Cho’s predecessor, Moon Yong-lin, was also put on trial on similar charges after he stepped down.”

So the soap opera is told and unfolds
I suppose it’s old, partner, but the beat goes on
Da da dum da dum da da….

PM offers to resign, President Park meets with K-Pop fans in Peru

Oh, how the blogging gods have conspired against me.  I have been working on pieces and considering titles: “Prime Minister impeached, President Park impickled” and “PM impeached, PGH in Peru“.

Alas, they are not to be.

According to the Korea Herald, Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo submitted his resignation today to President Park Geun-hye amid accusations that he took bribes from Sung Won-jong.  Sung named Lee Wan-koo among seven others in a note found on Sung’s dead body, which was found hanging from a tree in an apparent suicide.

“Prime Minister Lee offered his intention to resign to President Park as of April 20,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “The president will decide whether to accept his resignation or not after she returns from her trip.”  A presidential spokesman, Min Kyung-wook, accompanying her in Lima, Peru, confirmed the announcement of the Prime Minister’s Office.

President Park is currently in the middle of a 12-day Latin America trip.  Park departed on the first anniversary of the Sewol Ferry sinking, this Korean generation’s where were you moment akin to Americans’ Pearl Harbor, FDR death, JFK assassination, John Lennon murder, or WTC 9/11 attack, and amid the growing bribery scandal that threatens not only Korea’s government’s credibility but also constitutional succession:  the prime minister is first in line in case of the South Korean president’s incapacitation.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the Sewol Ferry sinking’s first anniversary, the crisis engulfing PGH’s presidency, and by-elections on April 29, less than two days after President Park’s return,  Blue House Foreign Affairs and National Security Secretary Ju Cheol-gi said in a media brief one day before PGH’s departure, “there is no good reason to delay the trip, and it must go forward as planned. We have to create opportunities to help the economy, and ethnic Koreans in Central and South America are looking forward to the trip, so we will do what needs to be done.”

President Park is scheduled to return to Korea next Monday and as of this writing has no plans to cut short such an important tour of South America.  “President Park Geun-hye met with hallyu fans in Peru, Sunday, during the second leg of her South American tour. …Park’s encounter with 14 Peruvian hallyu enthusiasts took place at a hotel in Lima at the request of some of the fan clubs.”

President Park meets with K-Pop fans in Peru

President Park pictured at an important meeting with part of and receiving a present (???) from a contingent of 14 K-Pop fans in Peru

“I heard that members of the fan clubs learn Korean dance and ‘hangeul’ (Korean alphabet) together,” Park said. “These activities will bring our two countries closer,” she added.

Park’s other important accomplishments on this trip include a pledge from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to accelerate efforts toward ratification of their free trade agreement (FTA,) which was signed more than two years ago.

I have seen no press information whether members of the Korean press corp have deigned to ask President Park “might she return?”

(Damn you, blogging gods.)

UPDATE:  PM’s resignation tender written large on CNN’s front page.  According to CNN’s article, “Park is in Peru and is expected to arrive back to South Korea on April 27.”

CNN Front page April 21, 2015

(I have no further updates on the K-Pop diplomacy initiative.)

Random Thoughts from the First Anniversary of the Sewol Accident

Absconding President and Angry Parents

On the day of the first anniversary of the accident that took more than 300 lives, President Park Geun-hye hurriedly absconded the country for a previously scheduled 12-day tour of four South American countries.

Her decision to leave the country on that particular day has been the source of much tongue wagging, for understandable reasons, as can be seen from John Power’s tweet here.

(For those who do not read Korean, Power’s tweet translates to: “Are there cases in other countries where the president has left on the first anniversary of a big tragedy?”)

The president’s decision does, indeed, stink, just like the way the government’s response to the aftermath of the tragedy has stunk for the past year. But would her being at the ceremony helped? What would it have accomplished?

When President Park visited the memorial site in the morning before she left for South America, the families of the victims refused to meet with her. Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo was also blocked from paying his respects by the families. Never mind that he was not in office when the Sewol accident took place.


Prime Minister being blocked from paying his respects

Prime Minister Lee being blocked from paying his respects


People on this blog have told me that the president should have “bitten the bullet.” But what kind of bullet would she have bitten? It’s quite clear that the families are not looking for an apology from the president. They don’t even want to see her or allow her to pay her respects or even allow her cabinet ministers to do the same.

Their anger is understandable. However, seeing how they do not seem to wish to have their anger assuaged, at least not by President Park, I do not see how the president’s presence at the ceremony would have helped to improve things in any way, shape, or form.

It’s true that President Park has handled the aftermath of the sinking very poorly, amateurish, in fact. There is no question about that. However, as I have said before, I am convinced that her decision to leave the country yesterday may have been the least bad decision that she could have made about attending the ceremony.

For reasons that could have been avoided, President Park has become such a toxic figure to so many people that her presence there would have only exacerbated matters.


Korea the Police State?

Here is the way Merriam-Webster defines “police state.”

A political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and social life usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government according to publicly known legal procedures.

There was a time when this description DID apply to South Korea. The Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan administrations come immediately to mind.

Other examples of police states that come to mind are North Korea, Nazi Germany, East Germany, the Soviet Union, and Apartheid South Africa.

Modern-day South Korea, however, is NOT an example of a police state. Regardless of anyone’s rhetoric.

So why am I bringing this up? That’s because any time a massive rally or protest takes place, and the protesters are met by thousands of police officers, people never seem to fail to mention, carelessly I might add, that Korea is either turning into a police state or is already a police state.

For instance, Se-Woong Koo, the editor-in-chief of Korea Exposé published this image on his Facebook page, which he captioned by saying:

“The sad reality of South Korea: a police state protected by frightened barely legal kids wielding video cameras from people holding flowers.”

Simply because there is a large police force in an area where thousands of mourning (and potentially angry) protesters have all gathered together for a common cause just a stone’s throw away from the Blue House does not mean that the country has turned into a police state.

Mr. Koo is not the only person to be guilty of resorting to this type of logic. Many people think the same way.

What I do not understand is the mentality behind it. Why is it that it never seems to occur to some people that it was precisely the presence of huge numbers of police officers on the scene that prevented potential rioting without actually having to use excessive force? Why do some people immediately jump to the conclusion that any police presence is “excessive” or “an overreaction?”

More importantly, what would those same people be saying today had there not been such a police force and the ceremony had become more violent?

And it is not that hard to imagine that any mob could grow violent. The fact of the matter is that violent protests are not unheard of in Korea. There have been times when what started out as peaceful protests ended with arson (see here and here). There was also that one time when the chief of the Jongno Police Precinct was assaulted by demonstrators in what was supposedly a peaceful political protest against the ROK-US free trade agreement.

Just because yesterday’s rally was not marred by violence does not mean that the police can afford to take chances and simply assume that thousands of mournful and angry protesters in Gwanghwamun Square will not decide to do something as foolish as trying to storm the Blue House.

The police erred on the side of caution. This is something to be praised, not derided.

So what police state are people talking about? I don’t see one. Do you?

Captain Abandons Ship

One year ago today, April 16, 2014, and caught with his pants down, a Captain cowardly and scurrilously abandoned ship rather than face his responsibilities to his constituency.  He has since been tried, vilified, found guilty (in both legal court and court of public opinion), and sentenced for likely the remainder of his natural life to prison.   His name is now forgotten; his heinous reputation lives on.

Today, April 16, 2015, we commemorate the incident and the victims of the Sewol Ferry tragedy.  Park Geun-hye, her ship of state perilously listing amid bribery scandals that reach to the highest levels of her administration and threatening to sink her presidency, is embarking on a scheduled 12-day tour of four South American countries.  The timing of PGH’s trip and its minor importance have raised eyebrows.

On April 14, Blue House Foreign Affairs and National Security Secretary Ju Cheol-gi  offered a  media brief detailing PGH’s schedule and the significance of the tour.  “Central and South America are a land of opportunity, a place where we can reveal the potential for exchange and cooperation in diverse areas – including ICT, electronic government, nuclear power, and large-scale infrastructure – based on the cultural affinity created by the spread of Hallyu [the Korean Wave],”

According to the Hankyoreh’s unnamed sources, “there were also objections inside the Blue House to the timing of the trip, but no one came forward to officially call it into question.”  Playing the Get Out of Jail Free, papal dispensation, American Express Black, uber-trumper of all trumps, economy card, Ju deflected arguments that Park’s trip should be delayed out of respect for the Sewol sinking anniversary and amid the Sung Wan-jong/Prime Minister bribery scandal:  “There is no good reason to delay the trip, and it must go forward as planned. We have to create opportunities to help the economy, and ethnic Koreans in Central and South America are looking forward to the trip, so we will do what needs to be done.”

A year ago, people called the Sewol sinking Korea’s 9/11.  It wasn’t.  The similarities stop with what both represented to Americans’ and Koreans’ collective consciousness.  Even there, the Sewol tragedy falls short.  I can’t imagine the American president failing to adequately commemorate an occasion of such searing, binding pain in his people’s psyche …while scheduling an optional overseas trip …on the incident’s first anniversary …excusing himself citing money.

President Park’s trip comes amid the choking smoke engulfing her Prime Minister, her deputy for government affairs.  Korea is a less than one generation out of military dictatorship by coup and self-coup nascent democracy in a country without a culture or history of democracy, and the President’s spokesman sees “no good reason to delay the trip”?  As an expat living in Korea, I don’t know whether to take comfort in the President’s confidence or cover for her incognizance.  Regardless, the President’s overseas trip feels wrong.

…and no, the thought of the photo of the Sewol Captain abandoning ship serving as a visual metaphor for Park Geun-hye’s trip never entered my mind, and I am not incredulous that no Korean political cartoonist has drawn or photoshopped PGH’s head onto this piece’s featured image.

Suicide – A New Political Tool?

I can well understand Moon Jae-in at this point in time.

He realizes that he was robbed by the more radical elements in his own party during the last election and, now, he is attempting to realign his platform and change his focus and image by becoming much more pragmatic in his goals.

ticket_to_rideFor a completely different approach to politics, then there is this case within the Saenuri Dang: the case of the suicidal Saenuri Dang Prime Minister, who encouraged the corruption probe (War against corruption) that has caught him as well:

. . . Prime Minister Lee bet his life on his innocence Tuesday, but he refused to step down, although the ruling party made clear that it wouldn’t provide a shield for him.
“If there is evidence that I had taken the money, I will lay down my life,” Lee said during a National Assembly hearing.

All on the heels of Sung Wan-jong’s suicide due to a corruption probe by the prosecutor’s office. (link)

Using the threat of sucide to put off the very investigation that the PM demanded is unprofessional.  I would really hope that, if the PM decides he should kill himself, his leadership skills would inspire his beleagered compatriots to follow him.  Only then can this strange cycle of politcal evolutionary extinction end.

Sung Wan-jong suicide aftermath: the noose tightens

Sung Wan-jong, former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises was found dead yesterday.  Police suspect suicide.  Sung was Keangnam’s chairman until he resigned last month amid the widening anti-corruption investigation that touched Keangnam Enterprises and Sung’s personal business.

Sung was scheduled to appear Thursday at a court hearing over a detention warrant.  Prosecutors earlier this week charged Sung with misappropriating up to 46 billion won of government subsidies, based on falisfied accounting records.  Authorities suspect Sung embezzled 25 billion won of those funds “and was engaged in accounting fraud to the tune of 950 billion won.”  Sung denied all allegations of wrongdoing and even “strong” connections with the Lee government.

According to police, Sung left his house 5:11 a.m.  Sung’s chauffeur and sons found a suicide note in Sung’s house, and Sung’s family reported Sung missing to police at 8:06 a.m.  Police traced his two mobile phones and detected a signal in Pyeongchang-dong, (near an entrance to Bukhansan, his favorite hiking spot)  Jongno District at around 8:40 a.m and dispatched a manhunt with more than 1,300 officers.   At 3:32 p.m. and approximately 300 meters from the ticket office at Bukhansan, a police dog found Sung’s body hanging from a tree on an “untrodden” path near Jeongto Temple.  According to an officer at Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency,  “It was where Sung frequently went for a walk. He was hanging from a necktie tied to a branch two meters above the ground.”

Sung Jong-wan body from KT

Police officers carry the body of former Keangnam Enterprise Chairman Sung Woan-jong down from a mountainside, Thursday. Sung is believed to have committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree on Mount Bukhan in northern Seoul the same day. / Korea Times Photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Sung’s suicide “comes amid parliamentary probes into the Lee administration’s resource diplomacy policy.  The probes began to investigate allegations that Lee administration officials embezzled public funds during the government initiative.”

No, I’m not so cruel as to refer to Sung in this post’s lede.

At a press conference on Wednesday and less than 24 hours before his suicide , Sung dropped the 2MB bomb, specifically implicating former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak’s administration.  Korea Joongang Ilbo reported Sung’s statements as the following:

“I’m not an MB-man [someone close to former President Lee].  How can a victim of the former government become an MB-man? I actually worked for President Park Geun-hye, who was running the Grand National Party’s primary.”

The Joongang Ilbo observed, “Sung emphasized his innocence and shed tears.”

The Korea Herald published the following account of Sung’s Wednesday news conference,

Sung, a former Saenuri Party lawmaker, had called the investigations a politically-charged witch hunt.

“I am a victim of the Lee administration,” he said at Wednesday’s news conference, hours before his disappearance.

“I am much closer to President Park Geun-hye.”

“Many other companies had participated in resource development projects (under the Lee administration) at the time,” he added. “I do not understand why only we are being targeted.”

Police disclosed fragments of the suicide note Sung left in his house.  “I’m an innocent man who should be cleared from suspicions,” he wrote. “I will kill myself to prove it.”

Well, now. I’m convinced.

I do not understand the Asian custom (or is it only Korean custom?  My question is genuine, and I really do not know) of “proving” oneself innocent in the face of such scandalous, disgraceful, and especially criminal charges when presented with overwhelming tangible substantiating evidence through suicide.

Sung’s suicide makes prosecution’s pursuing its resources diplomacy case difficult.  Keangnam Enterprises played a major role in the probe. In another cultural difference I find incomprehensible, with suicide often accepted as proof of innocence, inquiries into the wider investigation often stop.

Nonetheless, make no mistake about it:  all, from business to governmental agency and education institutional, investigations so far show an Lee Myung-bak connection.  Lee Myung-bak seemed to have given enough rope in his time as president, and the noose appears to be tightening around him.

I’ll end with Sung’s last wish:  “Bury me next to my mother.”

(For a summary and impression of the extent of the anti-corruption probe, see here.)

PGH’s Bipolar Presidency

I have never been so happy to be proved wrong.

I posted first on September 30, Pardon moi, and again on December 29, Pardon moi? (redux), that the Park Geun-hye administration seemed to be sowing the seeds of parole or even pardon for conglomerate owners and family members imprisoned for economic crimes such as embezzlement, breach of trust, and incurring losses to their companies.

PGH’s administration slung the dung, fertilizing the field:  in September,  two high ranking officials (Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Choi Kyung-hwan) from two separate ministries made two separate statements on two consecutive days signaling leniency.  On Christmas Eve ruling Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung and the day after Christmas Floor Leader Lee Wan-koo seemed to partake of the holiday parole punch.

I went so far as to “handicap the paroles and perhaps some pardons happening between Korea’s New Years: sometime after solar New Year, sometime before March 1, and with a probability density centered around Seollal.”  “…in absence of a major public backlash (they clearly anticipate and desire to diffuse the minor public backlash) the pardons will happen.”  Long-time Marmot’s Hole regulars laid their bets, waging virtual beers.

Then, …nothing.

In March, the PGH administration pulled a one-eighty, going polar opposite, and cataloging the (thus far) discovered corruption presents a daunting task:

  • A 105 member team “consisting of prosecutors, state auditors, police and taxation officials” targeted alleged malpractices involving Ilgwang Gongyeong, one of Korea’s largest defense brokers.  On March 11, prosecutors arrested Ilgwang Gongyeong chairman Lee Kyu-tae on charges that he “inflated the costs of procuring an electronic warfare training system from a Turkish defense firm” and “pocketing some 50 billion won ($44.4 million) by defrauding Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration.”  On March 12 prosecutors arrested a senior official of an affiliate of Lee’s company “for complicity in the case.”
  • In mid-March, a wide-ranging POSCO probe grabbed headlines, and POSCO’s share price plunged on March 31.  The investigation has spread to POSCO group and netted its first high-profile arrest at POSCO E&C  in a slush fund scandal Tuesday .  “The prosecution is expanding its probe into how the slush fund was created and used amid allegations that former President Lee Myung-bak’s key aides are at the end of the money trail.”
  • Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is investigating Lotte Group’s shopping subsidiary for allegedly creating a slush fund.  According to the prosecution, “billions of won was sent from Lotte Shopping’s head office to affiliated businesses — Lotte Department Store, Lotte Mart, Lotte Super and Lotte Cinema — between 2011 and 2012, and why the money was transferred was unclear. The money was later withdrawn in cash.”  The Seoul Regional Tax Office imposed a 60 billion won fine on LG Group for tax evasion in 2013.
  • Dongguk Steel is suspected of, among other crimes, evading taxes, inflating the cost in the construction of a power plant, and fabricating the amount of goods imported from Japan and Russia.
  • On March 18, prosecutors raided Keangnam Enterprises Co., a Seoul-based builder, investigating allegations Keangnam misappropriated 10 billion won.  Investigators are also “looking into an alleged corrupt transaction between Keangnam Enterprises and the Korea Resources Corporation (Kores) in 2010.”  **UPDATE:  Lee Tae-hoon at The Korea Observer has reported the former head of Keagnam Enterprises has disappeared “hours before he was set to appear before police for a hearing to determine the legitimacy of his arrest”, leaving behind a will and suicide note. **  UPDATE 2:  “The body of Sung Woan-jong, former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises was found some 300 meters from a ticket booth in Mount Bukhansan. The cause of death needs to be investigated but reports said he appeared to have hung himself.”
  • Other companies under investigation include Kosteel, state run Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC),   SK Innovation, KEPCO, and others in a search that seems to have given Goooooooogle its name.

According to Yonhap, the investigations began in mid-March “after Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo declared an ‘all-out war’ on corruption in an apparent attempt to prop up weak public support for President Park Geun-hye.”  The Korea Herald in an editorial Unfit corruption busters – Anticorruption agencies should check themselves first lamented,

There may be some political purposes behind this harsh corruption busting ― like taking revenge against former rivals and taming big businesses and the civil service. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we deal sternly with all cases of corruption.

Seeing the anticorruption war unfold, however, we cannot but raise a fundamental question: Are our anticorruption warriors clean enough to fulfill their mission? Few would say yes.

The recent cases point to the sad reality that some of our anticorruption agencies are rotten to the core. Police raided six tax offices in Seoul and Gyeonggi in a corruption probe last week. Before that, four senior officials ― two from tax offices and two from the Board of Audit and Inspection ― were caught having sex bought for them by those who they are supposed to be checking up on.

The case of the BAI officials is outrageous. They had dinner with officials from the Korea Electric Power Corp. and its affiliate ― the bill for the meals and drinks for the four was 1.8 million won ― and went to a hotel with two women who work at the restaurant.

KEPCO and its affiliates are subject to audits of the BAI and it is not hard to understand why they provide such generous entertainment to BAI officials. What’s more comical is that the two officials belong to the audit agency’s internal audit team which has been expanded in the wake of previous graft cases.

It is not rare for BAI and tax officials to be implicated in graft or other corruption cases. But the recent cases should reawaken Park and her aides to the importance of cleaning up the powerful anticorruption officials first.

PGH’s administration’s probes have widened from businesses to governmental agencies and educational institutions.  Only churches have (thus far) remained unscathed.  I suspect that will change in short time.

Interpretations for PGH’s administration’s about face run from trying to shore up her flagging poll numbers through providing a distraction to the Sewol Ferry saga to Korea’s political tradition of vanquishing one’s political enemies.   I opened the piece with PGH’s administration’s plans to pardon chaebol chiefs. “Nut rage” ended any possibility of that, and left PGH only with her campaign pledge.  I find all credible, not mutually exclusive, and additive.

The extent of the corruption should not surprise anyone who has been in Korea for any length of time.  Although I feel sad (I’ve made no secret of one aspect of my anonymous life:  my wife and children are Korean and of Korea) on the precipice of publishing, I remain a hopeful idealist.  The best thing that could happen to Korea is massive uncovering of the entrenched, unseemly side of Korean culture.

Pardon moi for taking a water droplet’s credit for its contribution to the flood.

A Nagging Reminder About Trust & Transparency

This BBC article, on the current discontent the families of the Sewol victims have with the government’s position, is to the point:

Committee chairman Lee Suk-Tae, one of the members nominated by the families, said that the “attempt to appoint maritime ministry officials, who should be the very subject of our own investigation… is completely unacceptable” . . . We need full political independence to get to the bottom of this tragedy and to prevent accidents like this from happening again.” A statement from the victims’ families said that “the priority for the government should not be monetary compensation but getting to the bottom of the incident, salvaging the wreckage and finding the last missing persons”.

which really contrasts to the comments I personally heard from one conservative constituent in Taegu, who mockingly accused the Sewol families of holding out for more money.

If the next president ends up being any other candidate than a Saenuri candidate, it will be because of this lack of transparency and trust generated by the government and the party that has continually not acted upon one of the most obvious needs of society – having a government that can be trusted.

Anti-Corruption Law Passed – Weasels Ride Woodpeckers – End Times Are Near


These are strange days indeed – The National Assembly (South Korea) actually passed an anti-corruption law that calls for up to three years in prison for journalists, teachers and public servants (?) who accept single cash donations or gifts valued at more than a million won, or about $910 (USD).  When I read this and see photos like the one above, I am wondering if the eschaton is at hand.

So He *Did* Intervene in The Election


For those that remember the story of Won Sei-hoon, former director of the NIS, that carried out a Tweeter campaign to bolster Park Guen-hye’s presidential campaign, it may come as a suprise that  the previous district court ruling that determined there was not enough proof that he tried to intervene in the election, was thrown out.

Won, instead won a brand-new go-to-jail card for three years:

The Seoul High Court, on Monday, dismissed the lower court’s decision and said he had also violated election laws. “It is fair to say Won had the intention to intervene in the election,”
(Judge Kim Sang-hwan)

I guess no one asked if anyone instructed him to do this, though Won was quoted as saying he did what he did “for the safety of my country and its people”.  Likewise, one might also say that the Seoul High Court overthrew the previous ruling for the integrity of the country and its people.

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