[Newsmaker] Thin line between G-men and Mafia

By Park Hyung-ki
  • Published : Apr 22, 2014 - 21:20
  • Updated : Apr 22, 2014 - 21:20
Government men and women ― affectionately called G-men in the past ― had once been looked upon with respect and often portrayed in movies as heroes and protagonists who take on bad guys such as gangsters and thieves to protect and serve the public.

This no longer seems to be the case, as hostility grows and spreads toward the government following the devastating ferry accident that has so far claimed more than a hundred lives, mostly high school kids.

The officials, especially including those working for the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, are now being blamed for failing to implement proper safety and preventive measures, as well as regulations against companies such as Chonghaejin Marine Co. the operator of the Sewol.
The 396-ton ferry Democracy No. 5 belonging to Chonghaejin Marine, the operator of the capsized Sewol, sits at the Incheon Port International Passenger Terminal on Monday after the company announced it would cease operation of four of its ferries across three routes. (Yonhap)

They are described as being no different from the mafia, as critics traced the root of the problem that led to the catastrophe and discovered that most key posts at state-run maritime enterprises and regulatory agencies, and even independent private safety agencies, are held by former G-men from the Oceans and Fisheries Ministry.

With their organizational charts under the ministry resembling those of the mafia, which only accepts “made men” with close relations and ties to its inner circle of families, friends and hometowns, the ministry has become a target of harsh criticism for placing “friends” at such important institutions.

Those friends of the ministry appeared to have enough political connections and influence to lobby and sway other G-men to work in their favor that includes relaxing rules hampering their operations and overlooking business misdeeds.

As the death toll from the sunken ferry continues to climb, critics suspect G-men affiliated with the Oceans and Fisheries Ministry gave the green light to Chonghaejin Marine Co. to cruise and kill in the same way a gangster boss sanctions hits on targets.

Such an organizational structure seen from the ministry and its enterprises has been a problem for a long time.

Even President Park Geun-hye noticed this serious fault in the system, while condemning those culprits who sunk the ferry by saying their actions were murderous.

It has been common in Korea to see G-men extending their power in a mob-like fashion.

Not only officials from the Oceans and Fisheries Ministry but also those state agencies such as the Financial Services Commission and the Finance Ministry had deployed friends or former colleagues to related industries.

Former FSC officials mostly held key positions at commercial banks as lobbyists, while the Finance Ministry had former employees take important positions at economic and research institutions.

They are still known as the “Mofia” ― a play on the initials of the Ministry of Finance.

By Park Hyong-ki (